President Joe Biden
2021 January 20
The Biden Presidency
As Joe Biden finally takes the oath of office in Washington DC, his first task is to reunite a divided America. His second is to end American isolationism.
His presidency will be forged or broken on the anvil of the intertwined triple threats of the pandemic, economic collapse, and climate catastrophe. These existential crises cannot be solved without multilateral cooperation.
Because eliminating the virus, rebuilding commerce and trade, and dealing with the climate crisis all depend on working more closely with other countries, Biden will abandon walls, tariffs, and xenophobia for a policy of Alliances First.
Biden knows that immunising Americans will not be enough to protect them as long as poor countries cannot afford vaccinations. A consortium of G20 countries should cover the estimated $30 billion needed to vaccinate the entire world.
We will not recover the reduced output and lost jobs of 2020 unless and until we have a synchronised global plan that lifts growth. If America, Europe, and Asia agree to coordinate their fiscal stimuli, this will be twice as effective in delivering growth as if each bloc acts on its own.
Biden will rejoin the Paris climate accords this week. The transition to a net-zero carbon economy is the greatest international endeavor of our times. The West must now lead on a global green new deal.
Biden will stand up to Chinese illiberalism and Russian opportunism. He will secure a revamped Iranian treaty. He could even declare and deliver a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons and usher in a decade of disarmament.
AR All good in principle.
2021 January 19
Germany Is 150 Years Old
Otto von Bismarck unified Germany on 18 January 1871. Nowhere else has produced as much original, provocative and powerful art as Germany over the last 150 years. Germany is the greatest modern artistic nation in Europe.
All modern art begins with Richard Wagner. Adolf Hitler was a Wagner fan. The greatness of German modern art lies in the ways it has recorded, opposed, and remembered the nightmare of Germany between 1914 and 1945.
The boldest and most profound art of today's Germany embraces its dark and bloody roots. German art regained the courage to dive into a Wagnerian ocean of myth and memory in the most astonishing redemption in modern culture.
From a start in primeval Gothic religious sculptures, Josef Beuys translated Germanic folklore and ancient history in fat, felt, rusty metal, and mud. As time passes, these relics reveal themselves as a Holocaust memorial.
AR Herzliche Glückwünsche!
F-22 Raptor, top predator on planet Earth
"Thank you for riding Trump
Terror, Six Flag's newest four
year long roller coaster ride.
Please unfasten your seat
belts only when fully
stopped. Vomit buckets
are on your left."
Covid deaths in UK
in MAGA cap
Donald Trump began and ended his presidency with American carnage. America has suffered about 400,000 Covid deaths, the worst year for jobs since WW2, and the biggest stress test for US democracy since the civil war.
Trump was an agent of chaos. His reign at the White House crashed in a fireball of lies about his election defeat and deadly insurrection at the US Capitol. His unprecedented presidency was a shock to the establishment system.
Trump tried to govern by gut instinct. His Twitter feed gave a window on his thinking and showed a narcissistic craving for attention. He displayed the brashness and shamelessness that had served his business career.
The coronavirus changed everything. Trump played down the threat, failed to build a national testing strategy, and sidelined public health officials. Vaccine development was a success, but vaccine distribution was a failure.
Trump leaves a legacy of division, destruction, and death. He waged war on truth itself. He still has millions of acolytes whose divorce from American political reality threatens further instability and violence.
Trump exits the White House in defeat and disgrace, facing another impeachment trial in the Senate, banned from social media. History will remember him as the worst president ever.
AR That's a historic achievement.
James Comey was blamed by many liberals for putting Donald Trump in the White House. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Comey said Hillary Clinton had been "extremely careless" in her handling of classified information.
Comey was horrified on 6 January 2021: "I was sickened to watch an attack on the literal and symbolic heart of our democracy, and, as a law enforcement person, I was angered. I am mystified and angry that Capitol Hill wasn't defended."
He compares the attack to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union. America has always had a "radioactive stew" of violence, he says, but in recent decades it has been largely kept inside a containment building (the law) and tamed by control rods (cultural taboos).
"What Donald Trump has done for the last five years is attack the building from the outside to weaken its foundation. He's withdrawn the control rods, and that's a recipe for a nuclear disaster, a radioactive release. That's what you saw on Capitol Hill, our own Chernobyl, when the ugly radioactive violence and racism of America explodes in public view."
Comey says the Republican party "needs to be burned down or changed" into a responsible conservative party. Trump should face criminal prosecution after leaving office.
"The best interests of the country would not be served by giving him that Donald Trump daily drama in our nation's capital for three years as part of the United States versus Trump .. the country is better served by impeaching him, convicting him in the Senate, and letting local prosecutors in New York pursue him for the fraudster he was before he took office."
AR Saving Justice
2021 January 18
Covid-related deaths are nearing 400,000 in the United States and multiple US states have now reported cases of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK.
So far in January, America has added 3.9 million new Covid-19 cases and more than 51,000 virus-related deaths.
America's total Covid-19 death toll is now more than the number of Americans who died in WW1 and the Vietnam and Korean wars combined — and nearly as many as died in WW2.
Dr Rochelle Walensky: "By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country."
AR Per capita, this is still better than the UK.
The UK has left the EU. HM government has taken back control.
Brexiteers said decisions would be taken by the Westminster parliament. But the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill had just three days in the Commons and four in the Lords. The Future Relationship Bill was hurried through both Houses in a single day.
The Covid-19 crisis forced parliament to pass bills at high speed and with limited debate. Skeleton bills let ministers do what they wanted.
This era must end. Parliament must take back control.
AR Brits need a political revolution now.
A WHO team is on the ground in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.
The Communist Party of China has much to lose from transparency. The analogy between Chernobyl and Covid is not a neat one, but there are similarities.
Wildlife markets can spread new viruses. CPC authorities silenced whistle-blowers. Millions were allowed to fly out of Wuhan as the coronavirus spread.
We should apply global pressure on the CPC to help prevent future pandemics.
AR Work with the CPC, not against it.
2021 January 17
Germany: CDU Leader
Armin Laschet has won the contest to lead the CDU. He beat Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen in two rounds of voting. He promises to follow Angela Merkel's consensual course and may be the CDU chancellor candidate in September elections.
If Laschet were the CDU chancellor candidate, he would campaign against SPD Olaf Scholz, currently the finance minister, and a Green candidate. Laschet could form a coalition with the Greens. He has ruled out a coalition with the far-right AfD.
Laschet has governed Nordrhein-Westfalen since 2017 in coalition with the FDP. He was previously an MEP and a minister for integration in NRW. He has been criticised for weak leadership and for nepotism over PPE procurement.
A ZDF poll shows only 28% of Germans think he has the calibre to become chancellor.
AR I'm not enthused.
2021 January 16
America and Europe
Harvard Kennedy School Project on Europe and the Transatlantic Relationship executive director Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook: "The European relationship has changed and will now be shrouded in skepticism .. Biden .. might have to accept that .. American influence in European defense, security, and other global priorities has diminished."
Europe analyst and former state department official Tyson Barker: "Many European institutions and diplomats are happily turning their back on the Trump administration .. They've been bemused by Trump's envoys, like Richard Grenell in Germany, who have turned up and started behaving like Fox News anchors and insulting the country they were supposed to be building relations with."
A senior German diplomat: "Trump's disengagement and hollowing out of the State Department meant that we were suddenly without our most important ally on projects in the Middle East and Africa. When they did take big stances on things like China or Iran, they chose not to involve anyone, leaving Europeans scrambling for a response .. the prospect of the US underpinning European security is not as attractive as it was when he and Obama left office."
A senior European diplomat: "From our perspective, Trump saw Europe as an enemy .. We cannot afford to be naive .. This anti-global, 'America First' undercurrent in American politics is still very much alive and we have to hedge our bets."
AR Sad but true.
UK and EU
Timothy Garton Ash
Gore Vidal: "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."
Vidalism is baked into the Brexit project. Political logic is pushing both the UK and the EU to make the relative failure of the other the measure of their own success.
The Johnson government said the choice was Australia or Canada, but in fact the UK will be more like Switzerland, in a state of permanent negotiation with the EU.
The Johnson government has negotiated an excellent deal on trade in goods. German cars can continue to flow into Britain. For services, almost everything still remains to be agreed.
The Johnson deal is only a framework for future cooperation. In a long list of areas, it would be in the British interest to secure further agreements. Many of these are in the unilateral gift of the EU, and some can be withdrawn at will, as the Swiss have found out.
The asymmetry of power between the two sides is now more acute than ever. The UK has gained nominal sovereignty, but in terms of controlling its own destiny and advancing its national interests, the UK has lost sovereignty.
Permanent negotiations offer endless occasions for competition and conflict. The trick is to avoid falling into the Vidal trap. On many big issues, the strategic logic of cooperation cuts against the political logic of jealous rivalry.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove says we now have a "special relationship" with the EU. At the moment, that is just waffle.
AR Let the four UK cantons join the EU.
2021 January 15
American Rescue Plan
The New York Times
President-elect Joe Biden proposes a $1.9 trillion rescue package to combat the economic downturn and the Covid-19 crisis.
"No time to waste"
During this pandemic, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, have lost the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck. There is real pain overwhelming the real economy. The very health of our nation is at stake.
Millions of people putting their lives at risk are the very people now at risk of losing their jobs: police officers, firefighters, all first responders, nurses, educators.
More than one in five Black and Latino households in America report that they do not have enough food to eat. [Yet] since this pandemic began, the wealth of the top 1% has grown by roughly $1.5 trillion.
AR No time to waste indeed.
Kamala Harris is accomplished and politically savvy. She was once the much younger partner of the Speaker of the California state assembly Willie Brown. Barbra Streisand was at Brown's 60th birthday celebration and Clint Eastwood "spilled champagne on the Speaker's new steady" — Harris.
Over the course of the relationship, Brown gave Harris a BMW, and she travelled with him to Paris, attended the Academy awards with him, and was part of the entourage that flew to Boston with him in 1994. Donald Trump sent his jet to Boston to fly Brown, Harris, and friends to New York City.
2021 January 14
Trump Impeached Again
The New York Times
President Trump became the first president to be impeached twice, after the House approved a single charge citing his role in whipping up a mob that stormed the Capitol. He faces a Senate trial that could disqualify him from future office.
Lord of misrule
It remains uncertain whether this is the moment the fever breaks or merely a harbinger of further US polarization, violence, and decline.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "The president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love."
House majority leader Steny Hoyer: "Trump has constructed a glass palace of lies, fearmongering and sedition. Last Wednesday, on January 6, the nation and the world watched it shatter to pieces."
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy: "A vote to impeach will further divide the nation. A vote to impeach will further fan the flames of partisan division."
AR He was miscast as president.
2021 January 13
House Will Impeach President
The New York Times
Lawmakers move to impeach the president on Wednesday, after formally calling on VP Mike Pence to use the 25th Amendment. Pence has rejected the request.
Physics is my religious belief.
I grew up in New York City. My father was from Poland, my mother from Italy. After the University of Chicago, I did graduate work in mathematics at Princeton.
I got involved with the project of understanding whether quantum field theory could be applied to the strong interaction. I did hard calculations that nobody else could do.
David Gross and I did the calculations in 1972. In 1973, at my first conference, Richard Feynman said our work was important. I was 21. The Nobel Prize came in 2004.
In the summer of 1977, I thought about the Higgs particle and whether there might be more than one Higgs field. With more than one Higgs field you could have symmetry patterns.
The Higgs symmetry can address the problem of why the laws of physics look the same forward and backward in time. The predicted axion addresses the problem.
Axions are the only solution.
AR Wilczek predicts axions with mass in the μeV range and numerous enough ABB to behave as dark matter. In a strong EM field, they should sometimes decay into photons.
Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX)
1 Use a strong magnet to make an EM field.
2 Wait for some axions to create photons.
3 Detect the photons with quantum sensors.
2021 January 12
Inciting an Insurrection
The New York Times
The attack on the Capitol on Wednesday was the culmination of a campaign waged by the president of the United States and his allies to overturn the results of a free and fair election.
That campaign involved a barrage of lies, farcical legal challenges, and attempts to have the vote count changed outright. When it all failed, the president held a rally on the National Mall and sent the angry crowd to march on the Capitol.
The president encouraged his supporters to converge on Washington on January 6.
Trump: "We will not take it anymore. We will stop the steal. States want to revote .. Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong .. We fight. We fight like hell. If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
The charges are clear. The offenses occurred in public. There can be no republic if leaders foment a violent overthrow of the government if they lose an election.
2021 January 11
Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel has approval ratings of 70%.
This week, the CDU chooses a new party leader in a three-way contest:
◼ Friedrich Merz is a social and fiscal conservative who believes in low taxes and a smaller state. He says liberal policies have driven CDU supporters into the arms of the AfD.
◼ Armin Laschet is the prime minister of Nordrhein-Westfalen.
◼ Norbert Röttgen is the Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair. He says the CDU must deepen its appeal to young, progressive voters with environmental programs and digital investment.
The CDU verdict will be delivered by a secret ballot of 1001 party officials.
Kanzlerin Merkel has generally held the line for a politics of decency, compassion, and internationalism. Dr Röttgen could be expected to follow in that tradition.
AR My preference is clear.
Frank Wilczek has a vision that replaces our classical idea of physical creation with one consisting entirely of spacetime, self-propagating fields, and properties. The ingredients of the play out through time in accordance with just a handful of rules, to generate a world of unimaginable complexity, contingency, and abundance.
Wilczek describes the behaviour of electrons around an atom as like a vibrating cymbal, the music of the spheres, in is a poetic understanding of fields. His idea of the scientific method "combines the humble discipline of respecting the facts and learning from Nature with the systematic chutzpah of using what you think you've learned aggressively".
Wilczek turns out to be a true visionary. He has written a human testament to the moment when the discipline of physics, as we used to understand it, came to a stop: "Our machines .. will move the frontier of knowledge in directions, and arrive at places, that unaided human brains can't go."
AR Must read
2021 January 10
An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Many members of Congress betrayed their constitutional mission.
When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Donald Trump lied at pace. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative.
In November 2020, he told a big lie. The issue was the right to rule the most powerful country in the world and the efficacy and trustworthiness of its succession procedures. The claim was wrong, it was made in bad faith amid unreliable sources, and it challenged both evidence and logic.
The Republican party is a coalition of two types of people: those who would game the system (most of the politicians, some of the voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few of the politicians, many of the voters). The breakers provide cover for the gamers by distracting voters from the reality that Republican government serves minority interests.
Trump was unlike other breakers in that he seemed to have no ideology. His objection to institutions was that they might constrain him personally. His vision never went further than a mirror.
For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.
America cannot be a democratic republic if we tell refuse to accept the equality of others, heed their voices, and count their votes.
AR Beware: 2024 elections in both USA and UK
2021 January 9
The climate crisis continued unabated in 2020, with the joint highest global temperatures on record, alarming heat and record wildfires in the Arctic, and a record 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic.
Despite a 7% fall in fossil fuel burning, CO2 continued to build up in the atmosphere. The average surface temperature across the planet in 2020 was 1.25 C higher than in the pre-industrial period.
Only 2016 matched the heat in 2020. The past 6 years have been the hottest 6 on record. Europe saw its hottest year on record. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a new record in 2020.
AR Time to act
2021 January 8
Milky Way Bubbles
The image of the Milky Way from X-ray space telescope eROSITA show a huge cloud billowing upward from the galactic disk, with a fainter twin reflected below.
The North Polar Spur is a huge arc to the "north" of the galactic plane that emits radio waves. An expanding shock wave from an event millions of years ago may power the arc.
The Fermi space telescope saw the faint gamma-ray glow of two huge lobes, each extending roughly 20 kly from the center of the galaxy. They look like huge clouds of hot gas.
The X-ray bubbles are maybe 45 000 kly tall. Their X-rays shine from hot gas at 3−4 MK expanding outward at 300−400 km/s. The northern bubble aligns with the spur.
If a large cloud of gas once fell into the black hole at the heart of the galaxy, the hole would have swallowed half of it and blown out the rest north and south as huge bubbles.
AR Big history
2021 January 7
Joe Biden Confirmed
The New York Times
The US Congress confirmed President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s victory early Thursday.
US Capitol Attack
The New York Times
President Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress incited a violent attack Wednesday against the US government. This cannot be allowed to stand.
Trump's seditious rhetoric prompted a mob of thousands of people to storm the US Capitol building, some breaking onto the House and Senate floors, where the nation's elected representatives had gathered to perform their constitutional duty.
The mob attacked the seat of American government and forced the suspension of congressional debate. They shattered windows and broke doors, clashing with overwhelmed security forces as they shouted their support for Trump and their defiance of the lawful results of the 2020 election. US leaders were sent scurrying for shelter.
Trump sparked these assaults. He has railed for months against the verdict rendered by voters in November. He summoned his supporters to gather in Washington and encouraged them to march on the Capitol. He told them that the election was being stolen. He told them to fight.
Republican senator Mitt Romney: "What happened at the US Capitol today was an insurrection, incited by the president of the United States."
AR Let Mike Pence take over for 2 weeks.
2021 January 6
Our vision is to solve artificial intelligence. We want to understand intelligence and recreate it artificially, and then use that as a tool to help us understand the world and make a positive impact.
Proteins are like little biomachines. They are switches, motors, little factories. Biology at that level looks like digital code. There are 200 million or so proteins out there in nature.
If you can solve protein folding, then you can start unlocking some of the secrets about how life works much faster than you can with experiments. You can better understand disease.
The proteins in the coronavirus were sequenced early on by Chinese researchers. Some of the structures had been experimentally determined, but not all. Our AlphaFold system was pretty accurate, but we didn't want to make big claims.
In the future, AI might contribute to things like material design or protein design, so that we have proteins that can break down waste plastics or create renewable biofuel.
We hope to be a big part of breakthrough work in science, from renewable energy and nuclear fusion to quantum chemistry and finding cures for diseases.
2021 January 5
America was first discovered by Ice Age hunter-gatherers. Once the ice sheets thawed, civilization evolved independently on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe rose to world dominance with stolen American wealth.
Plagues were the main conquerors of the New World. Its peoples had never met such sicknesses. A great wave of smallpox washed through the Americas in the 1520s, cutting down the natives as severely as Europe's Black Death.
Mesoamerica's population was some 20 million in 1500, roughly twice that of Spain and Portugal together. In 1519, Spanish invaders advanced to the Aztec capital, bigger than any city in Europe.
The Spaniards were assigned a palace and an uneasy peace held for months. But then Spaniards massacred hundreds of unarmed Aztecs and open warfare broke out. As the invaders tried to flee, the Aztecs slaughtered them.
Spain rebuilt its army and conquered the Aztec empire in 1521. Pestilence was its ally. From 1520 to 1576, Mesoamerica's population fell from 20 million to 2 million, and to 1 million in the 1620s.
When Pizarro first landed in Peru in 1526, he found a thriving Inca empire. When he returned with an army five years later, he found an empty ruin. Smallpox had killed the emperor and maybe half the people.
2021 January 4
The psychodrama of Brexit has created Lesser Britain.
In 1971, an HM government white paper imagined the UK declining to join the European project: "In a single generation we should have renounced an imperial past and rejected a European future. Our friends everywhere would be dismayed."
Fifty years later, Boris Johnson and his allies imagine a new golden age of global mercantile power. They talk of "world-beating" initiatives and say Britain is a "much better country" than every other. Friends everywhere are dismayed.
The British imperial mindset is that you are either the top dog or you are being suppressed. Imperialists imagined the UK as the dominant power within the EU and called Britain the one indispensable ally of the United States. English historian Linda Colley sees "a persistent inclination to pursue empire vicariously by clambering like a mouse on the American eagle's head".
Britain could not dominate the EU but as a member it was a transatlantic bridge. Outside the EU, the UK loses much of its ability to perch on the American eagle's head.
In the 2015 election campaign, Conservatives told English voters to give them a majority, or Scottish nationalists might hold the balance of power at Westminster. They said the English "hate being ruled or bossed by foreigners. French, Germans, Scots, anyone."
Brexit has awakened English nationalism.
AR It will fail.
2021 January 3
Brexit is shock therapy. Britain must change or decline. We need to decide how we:
▸ Get annual economic growth well above 2%
▸ Become a global centre of technology innovation
▸ Make Britain a more attractive place to do business
▸ Reform our public services
▸ Cut crime and the numbers living on the breadline
▸ Rebuild our infrastructure
▸ Preserve the integrity of the UK
▸ See our new role in the world
Brexit is a spur to answer these questions.
Boris Johnson has appointed 52 new life peers to the House of Lords.
Johnson ignored the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission to ennoble Peter Cruddas, who resigned as Conservative party co-treasurer in 2012 after being found selling access to the prime minister.
Johnson has also elevated new crossbench peers who backed his position on Brexit. Appointing peers for favours damages the credibility of the Lords. He may be doing so to weaken Lords scrutiny of his government.
The total number of peers is now 833.
A new poll shows that a general election now would give a hung parliament. Conservatives would lose 81 seats, leaving them with 284 seats and Labour with 282, and the PM would lose his own seat.
Labour would win 38% of the vote, Tories 36%, Lib Dems 9%, and Greens 7%. The SNP would win 57 of the 59 Scottish seats. UK wide, Lib Dems would win 2 seats.
AR Blair for PM. Reform Westmonster. PR now.
My local beach at high noon, 2021-01-02
2021 January 2
RIP UK 2021
Relations between the nations of UK4 are a problem:
◼ In Scotland, a recent poll puts support for independence 16 points ahead of remaining in the UK. In 2016, 62% of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU. The SNP dominates Scottish politics, and its platform is to leave the UK and rejoin the EU.
Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon: "There is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us. It's time to chart our own future as an independent European nation."
◼ In Northern Ireland, nationalist politicians are confident that, if a vote were called, NI could be reunited with the Republic of Ireland. Republicans see NI as a casualty of Brexit. NI shares a land border with the republic, which is in the EU. Brexit already ties NI to follow EU rules.
NI SDLP MP Matthew O'Toole: "Brexit has dragged up issues that had felt settled here and put them to the top of our agenda."
◼ In Wales, although there is no strong independence movement, support for business as usual has become untenable, as nationalists become increasingly hostile toward the Conservative government in Westminster.
◼ In England, resentment of a status quo that looks like London funding its poorer relatives in the other three nations is growing. Because the Conservative party base is in England, UK prime minister Boris Johnson could care less about the rest.
AR Break it up. Call it a casualty of Brexit.
Britain Has Lost Itself
My grandparents escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and found a home in Britain. They felt not just gratitude but also a deep attachment to their adopted homeland. They became naturalized British citizens. But they would be heartbroken to see it today.
The vote to leave the EU in 2016 revealed deep prejudices about migrants. Xenophobia and racism made an ugly return to the mainstream. Political rot set in. The government now plays fast and loose with parliamentary procedure and international treaties.
I applied for German citizenship. Germany today embodies decency and respect. Britain is a sad shadow of its former self.
AR I may have left it too late.
2021 January 1
A New Roaring Twenties
There are reasons to look forward to the decade to come with enthusiasm and confidence. A mass vaccination program is under way and should pave the way for a return to a degree of normal life by Easter. A robust economic recovery may follow the post-Brexit trade deal which came into effect last night and unleash a tide of business investment and innovation.
The year 2020 proved remarkable for science. The development of new Covid vaccines, along with breakthroughs in the search for vaccines for malaria and research into proteins, holds out the prospect of a new golden age of medicine in which Britain can play a leading role. The pandemic has led businesses to embrace new technology and to adopt new ways of working and engaging with customers. The CEBR forecasts UK GDP to be 25% higher than that of France by 2035.
This year the UK government will host the G7 summit of leading western nations, to which it has also invited the leaders of India, South Korea, and Australia. It will also host the UN climate change conference COP26, in Glasgow. The new year offers a chance for a new beginning and the start of what we hope will prove to be the Roaring Twenties.
AR This vision of the decade to come is too parochial and nationalistic by far and illustrates the shortcomings that may limit British achievements in a transforming world.
A Tragic National Error
This is a day of sadness. The departure of the UK from the EU remains a tragic national error. We have expelled ourselves from a union that was good for this country and the world.
At least the EU can no longer be blamed for our continuing tensions, inequalities and failures of governance. Brexit was opposed by majorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London and other cities, as well as by most young people and most graduates. None of that is going to change, despite the overall majority verdict in 2016.
Two of the most striking consequences of the vote were the unity of the EU27 in the face of Brexit compared with the growing disunity of the UK4 over the issue. But the delusions that fed and fostered Brexit still have much of the Conservative party and press in their grip.
The Brexit movement fatally confuses sovereignty with power. We live in an interconnected world. We shall never cease to be Europeans.
AR All the arguments for Brexit apply, mutatis mutandis, to motivate the breakup of the UK and a push for Dorset to break free from the Westmonster.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel
sign the EU−UK trade agreement in Brussels on Wednesday morning
⦿ Jason Lee
China and EU sign agreement
to open up Chinese markets
for European investment and
address Chinese subsidies,
state control, tech transfer.
China and EU trade goods
worth €1 billion a day.
"Solitude is not chosen any
more than destiny is chosen.
Solitude comes to us if we
have within us the magic
stone that attracts destiny."
⦿ Paul Grover
Ursula von der Leyen,
Ursula von der Leyen:
"Parting is such sweet sorrow"
deal, details, documents
AR This deal is a disaster for
the UK. Never was so much
bargained away for so little.
The Westminster parliament
now enjoys a "sovereignty"
over Brits that it is almost
certain to misuse.
"Zwar gibt es jetzt ein Han-
delsabkommen — aber das
Ergebnis ist ein sehr harter
Brexit. Zu Neujahr gibt es ein
hartes Erwachen: Der Schaden
für Unternehmen ist enorm,
den höchsten Preis zahlen
die einfachen Bürger."
Trucks at Manston airfield
2020 December 31
HM the Queen gave royal approval to the future relationship bill at 12.25 am on Thursday morning.
Her signature puts the agreement into law as the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020.
AR Was she a useless appendage or a willing accomplice?
We Are Free
The year 2021 may be remembered as one of those great turning points — like the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which laid the foundations of parliamentary government, or the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, which ushered in nearly a century of global dominance for Britain.
Eurosceptics in both main parties were for decades a despised minority. They were seen as fruitcakes and nutters. But millions of British people dared to love their country and to believe in it. For many of them, there were more important concerns in life than money. A majority voted to leave.
We are free. We're free to chart our own course as a sovereign and independent nation. A new chapter miraculously begins.
We have failed
We have ended up with a poor agreement. On every major economic point, the EU has got its way.
✗ We massively overestimated the strength of our negotiating position. We and the EU are equally sovereign, but not sovereign equals.
✗ We fired the starting gun before we had worked out our own position. We should have decided what we wanted and only then pulled the trigger.
✗ We prioritised sovereignty over economic interests. In any international agreement, a state limits its sovereignty in return for practical benefits.
✗ We wilfully destroyed EU trust in our commitment to implement what we had already agreed and were then forced to back down.
✗ We never developed a strategic plan for the negotiations. The agreement ended up being mostly what the EU wanted.
We are embarking on a long journey. We will have to do a lot better.
AR Both writers aim their 'we' too nationalistically.
2020 December 30
UK−EU Deal Done
The Guardian, 1609 UTC
Boris Johnson has signed the trade and cooperation agreement with the EU on behalf of the UK.
MPs pass deal
BBC News, 1441 UTC
MPs back the government's post-Brexit trade deal with the EU by 521 votes to 73.
AR The end
UK Approves Second Covid Vaccine
The UK medicines regulator has approved the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) approved the vaccine after weeks of examining the trial data. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine currently in use needs storage at −70 C and is hard to deploy. Because the Oxford vaccine needs only normal refrigeration and comes from UK factories, it can be rolled out swiftly to GPs and care homes.
AR I hope to be vaccinated in February/March.
The UK government's approach to Covid may catalyse the breakup of the UK. When the pandemic began, Boris Johnson acted for the whole of the UK. He soon found that on Covid he was the prime minister only of England.
Scotland took control early of its Covid policy. SNP first minister Nicola Sturgeon began regular Covid briefings in March and has held them ever since. Sturgeon now has a net approval rating of +61 among Scots for her handling of the pandemic, while Johnson has a net rating of −43. In Scotland, 17 successive opinion polls show majority support for breaking away from the UK.
The consequences are visible in Wales and Northern Ireland, and even at English local level too. If the SNP wins a fourth successive Holyrood victory in May and claims a mandate for a new independence referendum, it will be seismic.
Brexit was key in creating this volatile mix. The English and Welsh voted to leave the EU. Scotland voted decisively to remain. EU27 unity during 2020 trade talks contrasted with UK4 disunity.
To Johnson, the Brexit slogan "Take back control" invites a push to rebuild Westmonster sovereignty. An existential crisis for the UK is nigh.
Will 2021 be better?
Boris Johnson's problems are about to get worse. A Downing Street staffer: "It's hard to state how bad January and February are going to be."
The government is optimistic. A member: "There's going to be a shift now Brexit is done. The prime minister gets it. It's going to be about competence."
AR After so many centuries, England alone.
2020 December 29
In London they call it the Christmas Eve Agreement. When Big Ben tolls at 11 pm London time on New Year's Eve, Brexiteers will cheer in triumph.
Economists, politicians, and lawyers are still bent over the 1246-page agreement with its countless additional declarations and protocols. But its pitfalls are already clear.
London and Brussels agree that goods trade should continue to flow duty-free and without volume restrictions. But there will be new controls at the borders.
The UK service sector is not covered. London banks hope for an equivalence certificate. But Brussels will only issue one, subject to revocation at any time within 30 days, if UK remains in full compliance.
The UK government says the UK will in future be an "independent coastal state" with "full control" over its fishing grounds. EU fishermen will have to return a quarter of their catch for the next 66 months.
EU companies that want to invest in the UK have no planning security. A dispute settlement procedure is defined in case the UK lures investors with lax environmental laws or lower social and labour rules.
London agrees that Northern Ireland will remain part of the EU internal market, where the European Court of Justice has ultimate jurisdiction.
At least the CEA stops EU citizens from coming and going as they please.
AR Abolish the UK!
The last fifty years of Britain in Europe have not been mired in futility.
British ambition, energy, and effectiveness did two huge things in the history of the EU: the single market and enlargement.
Margaret Thatcher pressed hard for the single market. But she could not see the need for common social, environmental, and safety standards, with mechanisms to enforce them.
Thatcher also proclaimed the goal of enlargement in 1988. Without Britain, the EU may not have responded after 1989 by opening talks on membership with central European states.
The EU let Britain transcend its imperial past, imagine a European future for itself, and settle the conflict in Northern Ireland.
AR Banish the Westmonster!
A special relationship has been turned into a purely transactional one.
In 1989, I was one of the earliest British students to participate in the Erasmus scheme. I found philosophy contains more than we dream of in Britain.
The tragedy of the Brexit saga is that the case for the cultural value of EU membership was barely even made.
The trade deal is a turkey with no trimmings to make it palatable.
AR Cold turkey for Brits!
2020 December 28
EU Green Light
BBC News, 1206 UTC
EU ambassadors in Brussels have unanimously approved the trade deal with the UK to come into provisional force on January 1.
A Deal — The End
After four and a half years, we have reached the end of the beginning of Brexit. We have a deal.
Brexit brings some benefits for the EU. The UK and the EU are equally sovereign, but they are not equally powerful. The agreement on the level playing field is symmetrical, but the reality is asymmetrical. The EU has granted the UK access to its single market where it has a comparative advantage and blocked access where it has a comparative disadvantage. In the UK, Brexit will separate reality from delusion.
The UK will be substantially poorer in the long run under this deal than as an EU member.
AR A defeat for the UK, wreathed in fantasy.
Brexit Is No Good
Am Brexit ist absolut nichts Gutes. Die Europäische Union ist an diesem Austritt noch kein Stück gewachsen.
Es hätte den Brexit nie und nimmer gegeben, wenn verschnöselte konservative Politiker nicht ihr Volk in einer bis dato ungekannten Art und Weise getäuscht und belogen hätten. Großbritannien ist von zockenden Lügnern, leichtfertigen Clowns und ihren Claqueuren gekapert worden. Sie haben mein Europa kaputtgemacht.
Nigel Farage, Anführer der UKIP-Party, hat ungezählte Lügen über die Europäische Union in die Welt gesetzt, aber Boris Johnson schickte einen roten Bus durchs Land, auf dem in sehr großen Buchstaben dermaßen dreist über den britischen EU-Beitrag und das heimische Gesundheitssystem NHS gelogen wurde, dass es selbst Farage zu viel war.
Was »Take back control« wert ist, wenn es ernst wird, haben der Premier und seine Lurche kurz vor Weihnachten erfahren, als Frankreich den Kanaltunnel sperrte. Dass die französischen Austern und der Champagner knapp werden könnten, ist die einzige Sprache, welche die elitistischen Johnsons der Insel verstehen.
Sarkasmus und Schadenfreude passen nicht zum Brexit, nur Entsetzen.
AR Untergang UK — Endspiel kommt noch.
2020 December 27
Brexit Trade Deal
The agreement that Boris Johnson struck with the EU on Christmas Eve is no political triumph. It will set in train significant economic damage. A responsible prime minister would have sought to unify the country by pursuing the least divisive form of Brexit.
An honest case for Brexit was not strong enough to win a popular vote. Rather than confront the public with the truth, Tory Leavers promoted boosterism and lies. Our children and grandchildren will look back and feel embarrassed by Brexit.
Boris the human bulldozer has freed us from the EU
Mail on Sunday
Few prime ministers actually manage to change the countries they govern. Now, thanks to his achievement of a negotiated departure from the EU, Boris Johnson joins that number. Having won a majority that fashionable opinion said was unattainable, he has once again pulled off what almost everyone said was impossible. Four days from now, Britain will be a fully independent country again, for the first time in almost half a century.
Boris gets his Hollywood ending
On Monday night, Boris Johnson told Ursula von der Leyen: "I cannot sign this treaty, Ursula, I can't do something that is not in my country's interests."
Earlier that day, VDL had tabled what she called the hammer, granting Brussels the right to retaliate across the board if Britain sought future reductions in access to its waters for EU fishermen.
Johnson: "We can't have this Monty Python situation, where we are trapped in the car with a giant hammer outside the gates to clobber us every time we drive out."
VDL: "OK, thank you, Boris."
She put aside the hammer in a call on Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening, Johnson updated the cabinet. Michael Gove: "Rejoice!"
On Thursday, Johnson spoke again to VDL: "We really need to get this over the line now. We've got to get Frosty and his team home for Christmas."
Johnson called Frosty and said: "Go and close it out." Twenty minutes later in a call with VDL, Johnson asked: "So do we have a deal, Ursula?"
She replied: "Yes, we do."
By jingo, we're out
In 2015, Neil MacGregor left the UK to chair the board for the Humboldt Forum in Berlin: "German people see the whole purpose of a political leader as to make successful alliances. The proper use of sovereignty is all about pooling it to achieve your aims. The British idea that you should entirely do these things on your own and try to assume total control over your environment is unthinkable."
AR Albion will be alone in a sea of troubles.
2020 Boxing Day
We Have Taken Back Control
Whatever the original nobility of the European project, the reality for many Britons was an erosion of control of their lives. Laws were made by people they hadn't elected, rules were laid down by institutions they couldn't change, power was exercised without accountability. Their voices could be ignored and all too often were.
In the referendum they couldn't be ignored. The change for which we voted wasn't just a demand for a new relationship with the EU but also for a new settlement within the UK. Families and communities that had been overlooked and undervalued wanted to make our political system more responsive to their needs.
We can now embark on a new, more hopeful, chapter in our history. We are committed to a fairer, more inclusive country in which those whose horizons were narrowed through no fault of their own enjoy the dignity they deserve. The tools that Brexit places in our hands will be used to level up opportunity.
There is much to be done.
AR He wants to be PM.
We Germans Helped Get Brexit Done
Alexander von Schönburg
I predict that Britons will look back on Brexit and credit two unlikely factors with saving the day: the pandemic and the Germans.
While the French were all for giving you Brits a punishment beating, Berlin was always more inclined to part as friends. In Berlin, the view was that to isolate Britain when the Covid situation is so dire would be very unwise.
This was not down to a sudden outbreak of sentimentality. It is not in the German best interest to blow apart an export machine that was already stuttering dangerously.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen took it upon themselves to break the logjam. VDL also had one or two chats with her former mentor Angela Merkel. Tuesday's late-night phone call between Johnson and VDL was the game changer.
A Norway-style deal would have made the UK a satellite state of the EU with no say on the rules. A departure on WTO terms would have forced up prices and created shortages.
Johnson has got an agreement that gives the UK full access to its most important market while being able to write its own laws and standards, as long as it plays fair.
Your prime minister has achieved a deal which is nothing short of sensational.
AR Given the mess, it's still a deal. Well done, VDL.
Nothing to Celebrate
Boris Johnson said this was a good deal. It allowed us to take back control and provided certainty for business.
He was wrong. This was the thinnest deal available within the ruinous red lines he had laid out, and preferable only to no deal at all. We already had control of everything he claimed to have won back.
Ursula von der Leyen emphasised the EU success in ensuring a level playing field for competition. The UK would lose key rights such as financial passporting. It would no longer enjoy automatic access to EU security databases.
Boris Johnson took to bluster. He dismissed the media question about security. He batted away the ending of UK access to the Erasmus scheme. Only on services did he concede that access wasn't as deep as he'd have liked.
The deal is no surprise. Johnson surmised the painful personal consequences of a calamitous crash out and wanted to avoid a legacy of failure. Any comparison to what was promised in 2016 is a joke.
This deal is going to hurt. We have lost a continent to gain an empty husk of sovereignty.
AR My view too ..
2020 Christmas Day
Brexit: A Welcome Deal
A deal has finally been reached on a new relationship between the UK and the EU. Brexiteers will want to search it for any signs of concessions on British sovereignty. Business leaders will look for details on regulatory cooperation to minimise disruption.
The deal falls far short of what Vote Leavers promised during the referendum. The PM acknowledges that trade will be far from frictionless but calls the increase in fishing quotas for British fleets in British waters a victory. The deal does not cover financial services and puts a goods border between GB and NI.
Both sides now have a foundation for a new trade and security partnership. There will be further negotiations and tensions, but the two sides can work as allies.
Boris Johnson has delivered on his promise to get Brexit done.
PM: 'Glad tidings of great joy'
Johnson calls the deal "a great treaty" which allows the UK to "take back control of our destiny" and resolves a question that has "bedevilled" British politics for decades. He urges people to read the deal after Christmas lunch: "I believe it will be the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU for years to come."
UK−EU Trade Deal Agreed
The UK and the EU have sealed a new economic and security accord that allows them to rebuild their relationship. UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen clinched the deal after nine months of negotiations.
BJ: "We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny."
VDL: "To our friends in the UK, I want to say, parting is such sweet sorrow."
VDL: "The negotiations were very difficult. A lot was at stake for so many people."
• Will come into force on January 1
• Was welcomed by business groups as an amicable divorce
• Is big (exports of £294 billion and imports of £374 billion in 2019)
• Does not do "as much as we would have liked" for financial services
• Avoids any oversight role for the ECJ
• Protects the EU against unfair competition
• Was sealed on Thursday afternoon
An EU success
London and Brussels have struck an agreement that will maintain free trade in goods. The EU task was to limit the damage from a UK withdrawal.
For the EU, the deal is a success. The EU has preserved the integrity of the single market. The UK has agreed to binding constraints and adjudication.
Political turmoil in the UK hinders EU support for Brexit. The EU has entered a more assertive phase: France and Germany have more influence.
UK and EU Agree a Deal
After nine months of talks, the deal was secured at 1344 UTC on Christmas Eve.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will brief EU ambassadors on Christmas Day.
In the UK, Tory MPs await the verdict of a Star Chamber convened by the ERG.
Boris Johnson: "This European question's been going on for decades. I think this gives us the platform, the foundation for a really prosperous new relationship .. We have taken back control of laws and our destiny .. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered .. British laws will be made solely by the British parliament, interpreted by British judges, sitting in the UK courts."
BJ raised a copy of the 500-page document: "The oven-ready deal was just the starter. This is the feast — full of fish, by the way. I believe it will be the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU for years to come."
The OBR expects Brexit to shave 4% off UK GDP in the medium term. UK nationals will lose the right of free movement and British businesses will face extra costs in doing business in Europe.
Ursula von der Leyen
This whole debate has always been about sovereignty. But we should cut through the sound bites and ask ourselves what sovereignty actually means in the 21st century.
For me, it is about being able to seamlessly do work, travel, study, and do business in 27 countries. It is about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers. And in a time of crisis, it is about pulling each other up, instead of trying to get back to your feet alone.
The EU shows how this works in practice. In today's world, we are one of the giants.
We have got a good deal. It is fair. It is a balanced deal. And it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides. At the end of a successful negotiation, I normally feel joy. But today I only feel quiet satisfaction and, frankly speaking, relief.
Parting is such sweet sorrow. To use the line from T.S. Eliot, what we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is often a beginning. I think it is time to leave Brexit behind.
AR Für Briten leider nicht.
2020 Christmas Eve
Brexit: A Deal Is Done
BBC News, 1535 UTC
1502: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it."
1506: "This whole debate has always been about sovereignty. We should ask as ourselves what sovereignty means in the 21st century. It is about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers. It is about pulling each other up in times of crisis instead of trying to get back to your feet alone. And the EU shows how this can work in practice."
1509: "We are long standing allies. We share the same interests."
1532: UK prime minister Boris Johnson: "We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered."
1534: "Of course, the arguments were sometimes fierce, but this I believe is a good deal for the whole of Europe."
1535: "But above all it means certainty for business."
AR The UK goes free? I shall have less freedom in 2021.
2020 December 23
'Brighter Skies Ahead'
BBC News, 1614 UTC
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "We know that we can control this virus; we know that we can get through this together. I believe that everybody will do what is needed to keep themselves and others safe, especially this Christmas. And I know, from the bottom of my heart, that there are brighter skies ahead."
AR A voice of sanity
Hunderte deutsche Trucker stecken in Südengland fest.
NHS bittet Johnson um Brexit-Aufschub.
Raus aus der EU, rein ins Elend.
AR Der Clown lässt nicht los.
Lufthansa flies in 80 tons of fruit and vegetables to help restock UK supermarket shelves:
A Boeing 777 freighter landed at Doncaster Sheffield airport at lunchtime.
AR A nice gesture
2020 December 22
The New York Times: "Britain, christened not long ago by a pro-Brexit lawmaker as 'Treasure Island' for the riches it offers, earned another moniker on Monday as a new variant of the coronavirus ripped through the country and set off blockades at its borders: Plague Island."
Die Welt says "the yawning gulf between the prime minister's airy promises and the real world" has left a vacuum "fast being filled with the anger and fear of a nation hit ever since by horror story upon horror story" just days before the Brexit deadline: "Corona chaos will merge seamlessly into Brexit chaos. Few will then be able or willing to tell which bottleneck and which new emergency measure is due to what. But the frustration .. will be the same."
Libération says the continental blockade is even more effective than that decreed by Napoleon in 1806 at isolating the UK from the rest of Europe. A few days before the British exit from the single market, the island is getting a foretaste of its regained sovereignty.
Another British Fiasco
When the first wave of Covid-19 in Britain, I said the government should pursue a maximum suppression strategy. When a virus is allowed to spread, it evolves and mutates. We now face a mutant variant of the coronavirus with 17 alterations to its genetic sequences.
The UK government strategy has been only to slow the spread of the virus. The result is that the UK has recorded 970 deaths from Covid per million people. By contrast, China and South Korea have recorded 3 and 12 deaths per million people respectively.
The new mutant seems to be accelerating transmission. The greater the number of people who are infected, the more chance a virus has to evolve. A surge in cases in southern England, where transmission is high, will spread across the country and beyond.
Government mismanagement of the pandemic created the conditions for mutations to occur. An earlier lockdown by just one week in the spring could have halved the death rate. After the lockdown, the government again failed to do what was needed in time.
The UK has now been effectively placed in quarantine by the international community. The prime minister's repeated dithering and delays have led Britain to have one of the worst death rates in the world.
AR The UK government has shamed Britain and endangered the world in an attempt to protect an already shamefully mismanaged economy.
Waste, Negligence, Cronyism
The New York Times
When the pandemic exploded in March, British officials embarked on a desperate scramble to procure the PPE and other supplies critical to containing the surge. In the following months, the government handed out thousands of contracts, some of them in a secretive VIP lane to a select few companies with connections to the Conservative party.
Of the roughly 1200 central government contracts that have been made public, together worth nearly $22 billion, about $11 billion went either to companies either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative party or to ones with no prior experience or a history of controversy.
The procurement system was cobbled together during a meeting of anxious bureaucrats in late March. Wealthy former investment banker and Conservative party grandee Lord Paul Deighton became the government czar for PPE. He helped the government award billions of dollars in contracts, including hundreds of millions to several companies where he has financial interests or personal connections.
The government cast aside the usual transparency rules and awarded contracts worth billions of dollars without competitive bidding. Over half of them remain concealed from the public.
AR A plague on them all!
⦿ Bob Malone
The Great Conjunction, 2021-12-21: Jupiter and Saturn in a celestial kiss
unseen since 1226 and not to be seen again for the next 400 years.
2020 Winter Solstice
The UK is going into international quarantine after a faster-spreading variant of coronavirus broke out in SE England. The border with France is closed and Channel Tunnel services are suspended.
Flights, ferries, and trains from Britain are banned after European countries including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden announced travel bans.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock: "The new variant is out of control."
AR All this and Brexit too.
Downing Street: "The transition period will end on December 31."
Bournemouth East MP Tobias Ellwood: "Let Brexit trade talks continue .. If there's no deal by new year let's .. pause the clock."
North Dorset MP Simon Hoare: "Daily clarity of the dangers to our already pressured economy of no deal is alarming."
Tory media bite back
Daily Mail: "Does the prime minister have any idea what he's doing or where he's going?"
The Sun: "Boris Johnson has made a pig's ear of things recently."
AR I despair.
What Is Death?
We die. A pandemic demands that we understand this. This year, the Covid-19 death toll is set to pass 400,000 in the United States.
We have a health care system with technological powers that verge on godly. But you have to have access to health care for health care to work. And death still comes.
From the time you are born, your body is turning over. At your healthiest, living is a process of dying. But your death is not the end of your body. Tissues oxidize and decay, like a banana ripening.
You are a person with consciousness and emotions and ties. You live on in hearts and minds. The pandemic is a disaster, but it is also a moment to look at the big picture of life.
Living in the face of death shows you what you love and urges you to revel in that love while you can. This is where immortality lives.
2020 December 20
Coronavirus Cancels Christmas
Christmas plans for millions of UK families were in chaos last night after tougher coronavirus restrictions were introduced to contain a more infectious strain of the virus.
Boris Johnson unveiled tier 4 restrictions for London and southeast England that will prevent 16.4 million people from mixing indoors over the festive period.
The decision to scrap the planned relaxation of Covid rules for Christmas was blamed on the spread of the mutant strain, which has raised infection rates.
Minsters alerted the WHO to the outbreak and expect other countries to stop UK residents from passing through their borders.
No longer cavalier
During yesterday's 10 Downing Street news conference, Boris Johnson began to shake his head, stumbling over his words, scarcely able to believe what he was saying: "It is with a very heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned."
Last week Johnson pronounced such a move "inhuman" and mocked Sir Keir Starmer for suggesting it. Yesterday he said: "When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence."
AR Cancel Brexit too.
2020 December 19
Whitehall played the wargame Operation Capstone last week. Government officials modelled a series of events following the ending of the transition period in a no-deal Brexit:
⦻ Channel ferries on New Year's Day face a blockade of fishing boats from France and Spain
⦻ The motorway to Dover is jammed solid
⦻ Medicines cannot reach hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases
⦻ Criminal gangs try to hijack a consignment of vaccines
⦻ A large care home provider closes suddenly because it cannot hire staff from the EU
⦻ Two storms lead to flooding in northern England
⦻ Police face public disorder in protests by pro and anti-Brexit groups
⦻ There is an explosion in Gibraltar
A government source: "The system worked. It went well .. We're ready for no-deal."
Boris Johnson is upbeat. A source: "That has been his one consistent message — that if we leave on WTO terms we cannot be seen to be running back."
AR The Clown is leading us to ruin.
Stronger Than Brexit
No matter what is going to be in the deal that might or will hopefully shape the EU−UK relations in the future, one thing is absolutely clear.
The best deal the UK can get, and it will stay that way, is to be part of the European Union, to sit here around the table in Brussels and take decisions together. No matter what happens in the next days, weeks, months, years ahead, our interdependence will always be stronger than Brexit.
Our ties will always be stronger than Brexit and our friendship will always be stronger than Brexit.
2020 December 18
Last night, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen talked with UK prime minister Boris Johnson. He called on the EU to drop its demand for the right to subsidise industries while denying the UK the same right and said the €750 billion EU pandemic recovery fund will be used to support industries and put UK firms at a competitive disadvantage.
Downing Street sources say in the event of a no-deal Brexit the UK will not return to the negotiating table and will instead trade on WTO terms: "The prime minister has always been the loudest voice in the room on this. If we don't get a deal now, we won't be going in January to restart talks. That's not going to happen."
AR Exit Britannia, as Big Ben bongs.
Math of the Amplituhedron
Lauren Williams studies the positive Grassmannian and the amplituhedron.
As a toy example, the Grassmannian Gr(1,3) deals with 1D lines in a 3D space. Imagine all the lines through the origin of this space and a sphere centered on the origin. Each line intersects the sphere twice, so we can forget one hemisphere. The northern hemisphere is Gr(1,3), and the positive Grassmannian is a quarter of the northern hemisphere.
Each point on Gr(1,3) encodes the properties of a line passing through the origin. Each line in Gr(1,3) is defined by a 1 × 3 matrix. The numbers in the matrix are the coordinates of the point in the Grassmannian that encodes the line.
Many matrices have a determinant and subdeterminants, which we calculate from the matrix. A 1 × 3 matrix has three subdeterminants, which can be positive, negative, or zero. With the positive Grassmannian, they can only be positive or zero. The subdeterminants of a 1 × 3 matrix have eight different sign patterns: (000), (00+), (0++), and so on. We can neglect (000), leaving just seven categories.
The categories sort points into cells. The seven cells for Gr(1,3) are the seven parts of the positive Grassmannian. Williams devised a formula for counting the number of different cells in positive Grassmannians of any dimension.
The amplituhedron helps us predict outcomes of elementary particle collisions. Such collisions are described by an amplitude, and the amplituhedron is a way of calculating amplitudes. A set of colliding particles defines an amplituhedron, and its volume gives the amplitude for a collision.
One way to calculate its volume is to break the amplituhedron into pieces by triangulation. The amplituhedron is related to the positive Grassmannian. Williams has shown that the cells of the positive Grassmannian can triangulate the amplituhedron.
AR Promising work — if I could follow it!
A Cosmic Crisis
The ESA Gaia spacecraft has measured the parallaxes of 1.3 billion stars. Its new data has sharpened the problem known as the Hubble tension.
Most Milky Way stars show a tiny parallax in a telescope. Detecting the motion requires specialized instruments. Gaia was designed for the purpose.
The telescope works by looking in two directions at once. Accurate parallax estimates require the angle between the two fields of view to stay fixed. Early in the Gaia mission, scientists found errors. But as data accrued, they found ways to separate the fake parallax from the real. The final parallax data is corrected for a star's position, color, and brightness.
Cosmic measurements of distance rely on distance ladders. The first rung his standard candles close enough to show parallax. We compare their brightness with that of fainter ones in nearby galaxies to deduce their distances. These galaxies with Type 1a supernovas let us gauge the relative distances of more remote galaxies with Type 1a supernovas. The ratio of their speeds to their distances gives the cosmic expansion rate.
We predict the universe should currently be expanding at a rate of 67 km/s/Mpc. Yet the new data peg the expansion rate at 73 km/s/Mpc.
AR Exciting chance for new science!
European Space Agency
The Milky Way
Image made from early data release EDR3 by the data processing and analysis consortium DPAC
using detailed information on more than 1.8 billion sources detected by the Gaia spacecraft
US Covid death toll
US economy trackers
Ursula von der Leyen:
"There has been progress
but no breakthrough."
⦿ Jane Bown
John le Carré
2020 December 17
America Is Being Hacked
Thomas P. Bossert
At the worst possible time, the networks of the United States government and much of corporate America are compromised by a foreign nation.
The cybersecurity firm FireEye has been hacked. Its clients, which include the federal government, have been placed at risk. SolarWinds, a company that provides software to tens of thousands of government and corporate customers, was also hacked.
The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates of that software were made available to its customers. Unsuspecting customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has issued an emergency directive ordering federal civilian agencies to remove SolarWinds software from their networks. The remediation effort will be enormous and take years.
All indicators point to the Russian government. The United States must publicly attribute responsibility for these hacks. Leadership is essential.
AR China virus, Russian hack — American doom?
China Brings Moon Rocks to Earth
The New York Times
China has returned 2 kg of lunar rocks and soil to Earth. The Chang'e-5 spacecraft gathered the samples from the volcanic plain Mons Rümker. The return capsule was recovered soon after it landed in Inner Mongolia.
NASA is currently limited from directly working with CNSA or Chinese-owned companies. US law prevents Chinese scientists from looking at the moon rocks NASA astronauts brought back during the Apollo missions.
The Chang'e-5 mission required new feats of engineering and execution for China. After arriving in lunar orbit, Chang'e-5 split into an orbiter and a lander. The lander collected samples, its top half took them up to lunar orbit, and the capsule returned to Earth.
China plans to build a space station in Earth orbit, to send Chinese astronauts to the Moon in the 2030s, and to build a lunar base to support exploration in the decades to come.
AR This is good news.
2020 December 16
People of the Year
Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin are the co-founders of BioNTech. They developed the first safe and effective vaccine for use against Covid-19, and did so using new and challenging mRNA technology. They are the Financial Times People of the Year for 2020.
FT editor Roula Khalaf: "They epitomise scientific endeavour at its very best."
AR Excellent choice
History of the Milky Way
Epic collisions shaped the Milky Way, and the galaxy continues to churn. New digital simulations showing how a galaxy like ours forms and evolves feature a lot of old disk stars.
Many of the earliest stars are poor in metals (elements above H and He). The smaller ones are still shining. Most are in the halo, but some are in the disk, the youngest region of the Milky Way.
The ancient stars are immigrants. Some of them were born in ancient clouds that deposited them into orbits that later formed part of the galactic disk. Other stars came from dwarf galaxies that slammed into the Milky Way.
We see a huge number of halo stars ping-ponging back and forth in the center of the galaxy as if they had come from a single dwarf galaxy that collided with the Milky Way perhaps 10 billion years ago.
The Milky Way is now calmer, but the Magellanic Clouds are coming in fast. The disk, with us in it, is moving toward where the Large Magellanic Cloud was a billion years ago.
JAXA scientists are amazed by their samples of asteroid dust. Hayabusa-2 collected surface dust and pristine material from the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 Gm away. The probe dropped off a capsule containing the samples, which landed in the Australian desert and were transported to Japan.
Hirotaka Sawada: "When we actually opened it, I was speechless. It was more than we expected and there was so much that I was truly impressed. It wasn't fine particles like powder, but there were plenty of samples that measured several mm across."
Seiichiro Watanabe: "There are a lot [of samples] and it seems they contain plenty of organic matter. So I hope we can find out many things about how organic substances have developed on the parent body of Ryugu."
AR Good work
2020 December 15
"Know thyself" — the first of three maxims said to have been inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. What it actually means is a matter of debate, and modern science has made things much more complex.
How the physical substance of our bodies creates our sense of being a consistent entity, and what it means to have that sensation, is a puzzle. But our rapidly expanding knowledge of genetics and cell biology, plus our psychological insight that we are all a bundle of delusions and biases that prevent self-knowledge, give new perspectives on old debates and spark new ones:
• You are stardust: The long view of when your existence really began
• How nature, nurture, and randomness combine to make a unique you
• Think your sense of self is located in your brain? Think again
• You are not one person: Why your sense of self must be an illusion
• Why it's the aliens living inside you that create your sense of you
• Do we have free will or are all our decisions predetermined?
• If we can't change the world, does anything we do matter?
• Why we're in tune with our emotions, but suck at judging our smarts
• If the multiverse exists, are there infinite copies of me?
It is possible to take introspection too far: "Nothing to excess" and "Surety brings ruin" were the two other Delphic maxims. But delving into the mysteries of ourselves helps us to understand others better too.
AR New Scientist — my favorite magazine for over fifty years.
2020 December 14
England Versus Europe
John le Carré
I'm not just a Remainer. I'm a European through and through, and the rats have taken over the ship.
AR Quoted today in a tweet by Donald Tusk.
Brexit Deadline Extended
Speaking on behalf of the UK and the EU, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen pledged to "go the extra mile" yesterday to try to secure a post-Brexit trade deal by extending talks after positive discussions on how to ensure an economic "level playing field" after Brexit.
Johnson: "I'm afraid we're still very far apart on some key things, but where there's life, there's hope. We're going to keep talking to see what we can do. The UK certainly won't be walking away from the talks .. But what we can't do is compromise on that fundamental nature of what Brexit is all about."
The EU wanted the power to impose tariffs on Britain if the government fails to keep up with future EU rules and regulations. The UK rejected this ratcheting clause as a threat to sovereignty. Lord Frost and Michel Barnier made "limited" progress in narrowing the gaps between the two positions.
VDL: "Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days. And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile."
AR Wait for 2021-01-01, I guess.
Medicine and Morals
Ashley K. Fernandes
Many professions were taken in by Nazi philosophy, but doctors and nurses had a peculiarly strong attraction to it. Physicians joined the Nazi party in droves, much higher than any other profession.
Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis murdered many millions of innocent persons. Doctors participated in the medicalization of death, from eugenics to euthanasia to Auschwitz. German eugenicists cooperated eagerly with the Nazi party.
For Hitler and the Nazi physicians, the German Reich was a body. Whatever contributed to its health and well-being was to be preserved, that which did not was a disease, to be cut out before it poisoned and killed the body.
The Nazi euthanasia campaign was said to be good science, humane, rational, and good for the racial state. It led to the technological and medical surge responsible for genocide at the death camps.
The Holocaust is an enduring lesson in philosophical ethics:
• We must affirm that a person is the fundamental unit of value of our society.
• We must have rigorous conscience protection for physicians and health care providers.
• Science must rely on philosophy to say whether a particular medical practice is morally good.
• Physicians and health professionals must remain sensitive to dehumanization.
• A physician must serve the individual patient before the good of the state.
Medical professionals should always uphold the life and dignity of the human person.
AR This issue needs more debate.
⦿ Toby Melville
Dover will be a bottleneck after a no-deal Brexit
President Obama, 2016
2020 December 13
Twenty years ago, I ended my presidential campaign after the Supreme Court abruptly decided the 2000 election. I presided over the tallying of Electoral College votes in Congress to elect my opponent. This process will unfold again on Monday, reaffirming the continuity of our democracy.
This weekend also marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Nearly four years ago, the United States pulled out of the accord, signed by 194 other nations to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases threatening the planet. President-elect Joe Biden plans to rejoin the agreement on his Inauguration Day.
AR Sanity is restored.
The shambolic, self-destructive, and humiliating consequences of Brexit are coming into focus. The emerging picture is worse than its most pessimistic opponents feared. As the mist of lies, illusions, and jingoism lifts, we see not the sunlit uplands of a newly liberated nation but endless queues of diesel lorries blocking the Garden of England.
The strangulation of Britain's ports is already under way. Operators report unprecedented container backlogs, with some deliveries cancelled altogether. This is not a mere logistical, pandemic-related hiccup. It is an augury of panic-inducing food and medicine shortages, rising prices, and huge economic pain.
Any half-sensible prime minister would have asked the EU for an extension to the Brexit transition period. Brussels would have agreed, and British voters would have understood the delay. But Boris Johnson could not see it. Blinded by ego and his schoolboy brand of nostalgic English nationalism, he bumbled on toward the abyss.
No-deal Brexit irreparably damages Britain and hurts our closest neighbours, friends, and competitors. They will not quickly forgive a wantonly hostile act that undermines their principles and prosperity, nor should they.
Johnson was heard singing Waltzing Matilda in Downing Street last week. That song's jolly swagman drowns in a billabong. With a bit of luck, no-deal will be Bodger's end.
AR Sack the scoundrel.
2020 December 12
Trump: Supreme Court Rebuff
The New York Times
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton asked the Supreme Court to overturn the results of the presidential election in four other states. The Supreme Court tossed out the lawsuit. Paxton and his collaborators have disgraced themselves.
Brexit: Europeans Close Ranks
Boris Johnson has been snubbed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron after he requested a phone call with them to try and unblock talks. A senior EU official said the request for a three-way call on Monday was rejected because all negotiations should go via the European Commission.
Boris Johnson's declaration that he would go to Paris, travel to Berlin, "do whatever it takes to reach a deal" was quietly rebuffed again by the EU on Friday. Europe's leaders won't personally intervene in the current impasse in trade talks.
AR Bo fail
ALL WE EVER WANTED WAS OUR FREEDOM
+ And to have access to the single market
+ And to prosper mightily
+ And to be able to use the weights room without paying gym membership
+ And to have some me-time
+ And to explore an open relationship for a bit
+ And to get a Regret Nothing tattoo
2020 December 11
Brexit: No Deal Probable
Ursula von der Leyen
There is higher probability for no-deal than a deal. Positions remain apart on fundamental issues. We will decide on Sunday whether we have the conditions for an agreement or not.
It is only fair that competitors to our own enterprises face the same conditions in our own market. But this is not to say that we would require the UK to follow us every time we decide to raise our level of ambition, for example in the environmental field. They would remain free sovereigns. We would simply adapt the conditions for access to our market according to the decision of the UK and this would apply vice-versa.
AR The UK needs a new PM by Sunday.
Europe, Hungary, Poland
Timothy Garton Ash
The EU faces two urgent crises:
△ Putting through its €1.8 trillion budget and recovery fund
△ Overcoming threatened vetoes from Hungary and Poland
It took a marathon summit this summer to agree the budget and recovery fund, over fierce resistance from the "frugal four" of Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
The Hungarian and Polish governments make Margaret Thatcher look like a Europhile. They stand to be enormous net beneficiaries from the budget and recovery fund, yet they refuse to accept basic rule-of-law conditions.
Hungarian and Polish leaders are telling German and Dutch taxpayers: "We will block funds to southern EZ countries like Italy and Spain unless you let us go on using large amounts of your money to undermine democracy."
AR Good commentary, as always from Ash.
When two heavy ions collide inside a particle accelerator, they produce a fluid containing an assortment of elementary particles. An accurate classical computer simulation of drop of this hot and dense fluid would take longer than the age of the universe.
Researchers are collaborating to explore how to run a simulation on a quantum computer.
A quantum computer swaps the deterministic property of charge or no charge for a quantum property such as electron spin. When measured, the spin settles into spin-up or spin-down. But until it is measured, the spin is a superposition of up and down.
Each qubit behaves like a tiny probability spinner that can be tuned and controlled by a computer program. The tuning is coded by a complex number that replaces the binary 1 or 0 of classical bits. Theoretically, a small collection of qubits can store a huge amount of information.
The collaborators recently simulated a heavy particle after it passed through a quark-gluon plasma. Quark-gluon plasmas are produced in extremely energetic heavy-ion collisions. The researchers ran their simulation on both a real quantum computer built by IBM and on a classical computer configured to emulate a quantum computer.
They demonstrated that these kinds of calculation are already feasible today.
AR Good news
2020 December 10
EU Plays Hardball
The Times, 1200 UTC
EU unilateral no-deal contingency plans are harder than a trade agreement on existing terms. The UK would have to continue to follow European competition and level playing field rules as the price of allowing planes to fly or British lorries to continue to operate in the EU. The EU could ban British airlines from serving European destinations unless the UK government allows European fishing vessels access to UK waters.
AR Good so — hit hard. It's the only language the mutt ("fitter than a butcher's dog") in 10 Downing Street understands.
The Guardian, 1159 UTC
The European Commission offers to keep planes, coaches, and freight operating across Europe for six months after a no-deal exit — if the UK government agrees to maintain a "level playing field" by continuing "to apply sufficiently high and comparable standards" during the period.
The EU will also offer British fishermen access to its seas and open negotiations over quotas, if the UK government reciprocates, to avoid the worst disruption, again assuming "equivalent" regulations.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the talks were unlikely to be extended beyond the Sunday deadline without substantial concessions from Brussels: "We're not going to be treated .. in a way that no other country would accept, and nor would the EU accept. It's about some basic respect for democratic principles."
AR Basic respect for democratic principles would require abandoning Brexit, given polls showing 51% against it and only 38% for.
Barack Obama, Writer
Barack Obama's new memoir A Promised Land is unlike any other presidential autobiography from the past — or likely future.
Obama talked about his favorite American writers: "Whether it's Whitman or Emerson or Ellison or Kerouac, there is this sense of self-invention and embrace of contradiction. I think it's in our DNA, from the start, because we come from everywhere, and we contain multitudes. And that has always been both the promise of America, and also what makes America sometimes so contentious."
As a teenager in Hawaii and a student at Columbia University, Obama read everything from classics by Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, Cervantes, to novels like Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, and works by Robert Stone. He read philosophy, poetry, history, biographies, memoirs, and books like Gandhi's Truth by Erik Erikson.
The reading he did then, combined with his love of Shakespeare and the Bible and his ardent study of Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Reinhold Niebuhr, would shape his long view of history.
Writing and hope
As much as anybody, when I think about how I learned to write, who I mimicked, the voice that always comes to mind the most is James Baldwin. I didn't have his talent, but the sort of searing honesty and generosity of spirit, and that ironic sense of being able to look at things, squarely, and yet still have compassion for even people whom he obviously disdained, or distrusted, or was angry with. His books all had a big impact on me.
I think whether you're talking about art or politics or just getting up in the morning and trying to live your life, it's useful to be able to seek out that joy where you can find it and operate on the basis of hope rather than despair.
Berlaymont, Wednesday, L to R: David Frost, Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier
Boris and Ursula dine
in Brussels tonight
⦿ Jacob King
Margaret Keenan, 90, Coventry,
is the first in the UK to get the
Pfizer Covid vaccination
⦿ Cornelis Goilhardt
Terry Reintke MEP
⦿ Andrew Parsons
"Brexit was always
a bad idea .. we British
forsook one of modern
history's great and noble
experiments in bringing
nations together; and it
fills me with shame."
Ursula von der Leyen
UK approves Pfizer vaccine
for rollout next week
"Das Wunderbare an Trump ist,
dass er in seiner Unappetit-
lichkeit und Primitivität etwas
hat, was ihn zum Sprecher
der Stummen und Ab-
UK Covid death toll
passes 75 000
Austrian cartoon, 1919
2020 December 9
Brexit Deal Deadline Sunday
The Guardian, 2228 UTC
A Brexit deal must be sealed by Sunday or there will be no deal, Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen agreed after dinner.
President von der Leyen tweeted: "We had a lively and interesting discussion on the state of play on outstanding issues. We understand each other's positions. They remain far apart. The teams should immediately reconvene to try to resolve these issues. We will come to a decision by the end of the weekend."
Johnson said he could not accept terms in a treaty that would tie the UK to EU rules. The EU will publish its no-deal contingency plans "very soon indeed" to keep planes flying and protect borders.
Downing Street statement: "The prime minister and Von der Leyen had a frank discussion .. Very large gaps remain between the two sides and it is still unclear whether these can be bridged. The prime minister and Von der Leyen agreed .. that by Sunday a firm decision should be taken about the future of the talks."
If necessary, the House of Commons could sit on Christmas Eve.
AR Forget it — no deal.
A Brexit Deal?
I don't think we will know before the EU summit tomorrow if a Brexit deal will be agreed or not. We are still working on it.
But if the British side proposes conditions we cannot accept, we will go on our way without an agreement. We must maintain the integrity of the single market.
A number of complicated questions remain. Most of them are on how to deal with the dynamic. We currently have harmonised law, but in future it will diverge on environment law, labour law, health legislation, everywhere.
We need to talk about how we react when laws change either in the EU or the UK. We need a level playing field not only today but also in days to come.
This issue of fair competition between two diverging legal systems is now the big issue we need to solve.
AR Untergang UK
Brexit Nightmare Scenario
A 10 Downing Street unit will coordinate the government response to the "nightmare scenario" of a no-deal Brexit plus a Covid surge and extreme winter weather.
The winter control and coordination cell will provide daily briefings to the prime minister as part of a wider D20 contingency operation. The briefings will bring together information from the Brexit and Covid operations committees, the civil contingencies secretariat, and other Whitehall departments.
Loathsome ideologue Michael Gove oversees the D20 plan and chairs the Covid and the Brexit operations committees.
The long nightmare
Each step Britain has taken in the post referendum world has been in the direction of a hard Brexit. We now face a rupture with our closest neighbours that only a small minority of a small majority would have supported back in 2016.
The main victors are those who could never accept the EU laws and court rulings that were the price we paid for the benefits of membership.
Other victors include those who saw the EU as an agent of globalisation and want big government to shield them from it. Left-behind towns, pensioners, fishing communities, and rural areas wanted protection from change. That's where the Conservative Party now draws its support.
Nationalists are victors too. Nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland may be the biggest beneficiaries of Brexit.
Leaving the EU is so unattractive that no other nation will do it.
AR In the long term, Brits are killing the UK for the EU.
2020 December 8
UK Drops Illegal Threat
Lisa O'Carroll, 1528 UTC
The UK government is dropping plans to break international law in relation to Brexit.
The government will abandon all the Brexit clauses relating to Northern Ireland in the internal market and finance bills. In exchange, the EU will minimise checks on controls imposed on food and medicines going into NI from GB.
UK cabinet minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said in a joint statement: "In view of these mutually agreed solutions, the UK will withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the UK internal market bill, and not introduce any similar provisions in the taxation bill."
NI Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly: "We still need the conclusion of a free trade agreement to remove customs frictions, and with three weeks left to go we still will need an implementation period to allow us to comply with the new requirements."
AR No more Rule Britannia, Britannia waives the rules ..
EU27 Backs French Brexit Stance
Emmanuel Macron may be talking tougher than the rest of the EU27 as Brexit talks reach their endgame, but France's concerns are widely shared across the EU27.
An EU diplomat: "A bad deal poses fundamental risks to the EU in 10 years' time. We are all with the French on this."
Institute for Government Europe specialist Georgina Wright: "If France were the only member state to have concerns and reservations, we would be a lot closer to a deal than we are now."
French Europe minister Clément Beaune: "The main players have all realigned behind the same position. There is unity on the message and on the strategy .. The UK's gamble on a split in the EU has failed."
Former Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord Ricketts: "We always had a reputation as a country that was pragmatic, hard-headed and full of common sense. We were seen as good negotiators who knew what we wanted. That's been badly damaged if not destroyed by what looks from abroad like a long period of indecision and trying to pursue completely incompatible objectives."
Vote Leave mythology is about to hit reality. Other nations are watching and learning from British mistakes.
Lord Ricketts: "It's been pretty clear to observers abroad that this has been largely a psychodrama about the Conservative party and its internal obsession with the EU. There's a feeling that the government is in hock to a smallish group who are the hardest end of that spectrum and are prepared to ride roughshod over the usual parliamentary conventions."
Potential allies around the world see a UK that seems untrustworthy, petty, and confused, with a deluded belief in British exceptionalism.
A former cabinet minister: "We have gone from punching above our weight to bragging above our weight. Serious people around the world don't like braggarts. I get the feeling people are sad for Britain, not angry. They .. think Brexit is being done without a clue."
AR United EU, clueless Brits — go figure.
2020 December 7
Brexit: No Deal Visible
BBC News, 1917 UTC
Another long phone call between UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen resulted in a joint statement:
"As agreed on Saturday, we took stock today of the ongoing negotiations. We agreed that the conditions for finalising an agreement are not there due to the remaining significant differences on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries. We asked our chief negotiators and their teams to prepare an overview of the remaining differences to be discussed in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days."
AR Bodger has destroyed the UK.
Getting the UK back into Europe
We want to keep close ties with the UK after Brexit. We had British MEPs and MEPs from other member states working together. That's how I came up with the idea of starting a friendship group.
Looking back, I think maybe more Europeans should have come to the UK from another EU country explaining to UK citizens why to them it is important to be a member of the European Union.
There's a whole narrative about these unelected technocrats in Brussels. Very often the language we use here and the way we interact with people in Brussels and Strasbourg is very professional, very rational, very serious.
There is a reason for that, because you want to appear like a serious institution and we're doing serious work here. At the same time, I think it can put a big distance between the European institutions, the European parliament, the European Commission, and the citizens. We're working on legislation. It's really hard sometimes, it's really technocratic.
The worst thing that can happen right now is for us to lose hope.
AR We ♥ Terry
2020 December 6
Brexit: 'No agreement is feasible'
The Sunday Times
UK prime minister Boris Johnson says Britain must have freedom to make its own rules. Cabinet ministers say he should pursue a no-deal Brexit unless Brussels backs down.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed with Johnson last night to a "final throw of the dice" this week to try to salvage a deal. They agreed that "no agreement is feasible" without movement on fishing quotas, regulations, and governance.
If there is no progress, Johnson's team is discussing plans for him to announce no-deal in a televised address to the nation, blaming EU and particularly French intransigence.
Even cabinet ministers who backed Remain say Britain should prepare for no-deal and Johnson should not bow to EU demands. A former Remainer: "Just get it done."
Whistling Waltzing Matilda
Boris Johnson is now preparing for the UK to do business with the EU on the same terms as Australia, a.k.a. WTO terms.
Last week, Ursula von der Leyen encouraged Michel Barnier to reach a speedy conclusion. He tried, but Emmanuel Macron accused him of "going soft" and urged EU member states to take a stand.
David Frost then faced new text on the level playing field and consulted with the PM. Johnson: "There's no way we are going to do that."
Then they saw new EU plans on fishing quotas. Johnson: "That's not acceptable."
Sir Ivan Rogers: "The UK evidently thought it could use late concessions on fish to buy much lighter level-playing-field rules; the EU that .. the PM had no real choice but to cave in fully on their level-playing-field demands at the end."
◂ On Saturday afternoon, Johnson spoke by phone from Chequers with Dr von der Leyen.
Brussels wants a deal by Tuesday so that the legal text can be translated ahead of an EU summit on Thursday. EU leaders want Johnson to ditch the Internal Market Bill, due in the Commons on Monday.
If it's no deal, Michael Gove will wheel out Operation Yellowhammer plans to keep the lights on.
AR "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."
— Sir Edward Grey, August 1914
2020 December 5
Quantum Local Friendliness
In 1964, John Stewart Bell proved a theorem. It assumed (1) signals are local, not superluminal, (2) a hidden deterministic reality explains quantum mechanics, and implicitly (3) we are free to choose which measurements we make. Experimenters used it to rule out assumption (2).
A new Local Friendliness (LF) theorem goes further. It suggests an experiment with results that may force us to reject one of three assumptions: (1), (3), and (4) measurement outcomes are objective facts for all observers. The LF inequalities go beyond the Bell inequalities.
Eugene Wigner imagined an experiment. His friend is inside a lab and measures the state of a particle in a superposition of 0 and 1. The measurement is either 0 or 1, and friend records the outcome. Outside the lab, Wigner sees the lab and friend evolving together, entangled in superposition, even though friend thinks he has already collapsed it.
The LF theorem duplicates the Wigner setup. We have two labs. Alice is outside one, and her friend Charlie is inside. Bob is outside the other, and his friend Debbie is inside. We take a pair of entangled particles and send one each to Charlie and Debbie, who each measure it and record the result.
Alice and Bob each now makes a measurement. They can (a) ask the friend what the outcome of the measurement is, (b) reverse the quantum evolution of the entire system, to undo the friend's measurement, erase the friend's memory, and restore the particle to its initial condition, or (c) choose between one of two different measurements, measure the particle, and record the result. They do this for many entangled pairs.
A proof-of-principle experiment starts with a photon in each lab. A simple setup makes a measurement on the photon, which takes one of two paths or enters into a superposition of taking both paths at once, depending on its initial state. The friend is a qubit.
The proof-of-principle experiment was run about 90 000 times. It showed the LF inequalities are violated. We may doubt that a qubit is an observer, so the team envisions doing the experiment with an AGI inside a quantum computer.
If the inequalities are still violated, we must give up one of the three assumptions. Rejecting (4) would cast doubt on the Copenhagen interpretation.
Copenhagen-like interpretations include quantum subjectivism and relationalism (quasar). The LF theorem lets us distinguish between Copenhagen and quasar.
AR Nice — "quasar" is my bad!
2020 December 4
Brexit Talks Paused
BBC News, 1944 UTC
The conditions for a post-Brexit trade deal have not been met and talks are paused. Michel Barnier and David Frost say "significant divergences" remain. Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson will talk tomorrow.
AR Roll back Brexit now.
Brexit Talks: 'Difficult Point'
BBC News, 1703 UTC
Downing Street says talks to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU are at a "very difficult point".
The two sides still disagree on state aid subsidies, fishing, and enforcement. If a deal is not agreed this month, the UK and EU will trade on WTO rules.
A spokesman says the government is "committed to working hard to try and reach agreement" but the UK will not "agree a deal that doesn't allow us to take back control".
An EU source: "Both sides are giving it their all — we'll try and get this done this weekend if at all possible."
The European Parliament must ratify any deal, perhaps all 27 EU national parliaments too.
AR Endgame for Bodger
Johnson's First Year
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed Boris Johnson as weak, vacillating, and incompetent.
Despite spending more money fighting Covid-19 than any other G7 country save Canada, the UK has suffered the second highest death rate after Italy.
✗ Debased his office and weakened the institutions of government
✗ Condoned the breaking of international law
✗ Stuffed his cabinet with pliant mediocrities
✗ Sought to bypass parliament
✗ Ousted good public servants but retained bad ministers
✗ Obfuscated and dissembled with facts
✗ Lost all credibility
Global Britain is sinking into mean, ugly nationalism.
2020 December 3
European Commission Presidency
Ursula von der Leyen was born in Brussels and grew up there. As president of the European Commission, she says: "I always wanted, in politics, to come home."
German chancellor Angela Merkel was taken aback when French president Emmanuel Macron recommended her for the job and said she needed her back in Berlin.
UvdL says her first year on the job was turbulent. Brexit was no longer such a threat to the EU, but then the coronavirus struck. EU members states shut their borders and hoarded medical equipment.
UvdL rallied international support for vaccines and raised €7.5 billion for research and then coordinated a €750 billion borrowing plan for the recovery: "Merkel made an extraordinary move. She knew what was needed to keep the union together."
The July agreement gave the commission the fiscal muscle to allow a more even comeback between prosperous northern states and struggling southern ones. Now nationalists in Poland and Hungary want to water down legislation binding recipients of EU funds to adherence to the rule of law.
The European green new deal aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and establish the EU as the global leader on climate change. UvdL: "If you look at the time left before tipping point, not many parties have understood that this green ambition is right."
On the election of Joe Biden: "We're not going to pick up where we left off in 2016 .. The last four years have taught us .. that we have to define our position as Europeans."
AR Well done
2020 December 2
China: Moon Success
The China National Space Administration says its Chang'e-5 robot spacecraft has landed successfully on the Oceanus Procellarum on the Moon. It will gather 2 kg of lunar rocks and soil for return to Earth next month.
AR Well done
Coronavirus: Lockdown Risk
A Chinese study in Hunan province shows that Covid-19 transmission during lockdown was decreased for community interactions but increased for household interactions. The results, published in Science, traced 80% of secondary infections back to 15% of primary infections. Contacts between members of the same household posed the greatest risk of transmission, followed by contacts between extended family members. The transmission risk was lower still for social contacts and community encounters, such as those on public transport.
AR Seems plausible to me.
America: Presidential Pardons
President Trump may be considering sweeping pardons before he leaves office next month. A 20-page US justice department filing alleges that [a redacted individual] offered "a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence" and [two redacted individuals] acted improperly as lobbyists in the "bribery-for-pardon schemes" [details redacted].
AR Going down in a blaze of toxicity.
UK: Conservatives Rebel
In a Commons rebellion last night, 55 Tory MPs voted against HM government. But Labour abstained, so the motion was passed by 291 to 78. The motion returns England from lockdown to a toughened three-tier lockdown system of coronavirus restrictions, but it would have been easily defeated if all the opposition parties had voted against it.
AR The Johnson government's majority is vulnerable.
2020 December 1
Coronavirus: Wuhan Report
Nick Paton Walsh
Exactly a year after the first known case of Covid-19 in the Hubei city of Wuhan, a leaked 117-page report from the Hubei center for disease control (CDC) is revealing.
On January 10, officials said the SARS testing kits used to diagnose the new virus were ineffective, regularly giving false negatives. Health officials began to use clinical diagnoses, but first added the new cases to the confirmed numbers in February.
On February 10, China reported 2478 new confirmed cases nationwide. The documents show Hubei recorded a total of 5918 new cases. The discrepancy arose because Hubei health officials relied on flawed testing and reporting mechanisms.
National protocols told doctors when to label a case "suspected" and to call a case clinically diagnosed only if symptoms were confirmed by an X-ray or CT scan. Positive PCR or gene-sequencing tests were needed to confirm a case.
In February, officials improved the reporting system to class clinically diagnosed cases as confirmed, and speeded testing of suspected cases. But the diagnostic criteria did not count asymptomatic cases.
In the first months, the average time taken to process a case from onset to a confirmed diagnosed was 23 days. By March 7, the system had much improved.
The report reveals a system constrained by bureaucracy and rigid procedures. But it does not reveal a deliberate attempt to obfuscate findings.
AR Looks a plausible picture to me.
America: Heed Germany
President Trump's "Stop the Steal" campaign is an attempt to elevate "They stole it" to the level of legend.
A hundred years ago, the conservatives who led Imperial Germany into war refused to accept they had lost. Their denial gave birth to the Dolchstosslegende — stab-in-the-back myth.
The myth was that Germany never lost WW1. In late 1918, returning German soldiers were greeted with the slogan Im Felde unbesiegt and cartoons of soldiers being stabbed in the back.
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles fed a desire to restore German national honor and greatness. Resentment and anger let Adolf Hitler crack down hard on perceived traitors, leftists, and Jews.
This looks too much like what is happening in the United States today.
AR Let this be a warning.
Europe: Brexit Negotiations
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney: "The truth of Brexit is now being exposed in terms of the challenges of it. This is something that the UK and the EU have to find a way forward on as opposed to focus on a blame game as regards who is at fault."
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We hope that these talks will come to a happy ending. We don't need an agreement at any price. We want one but otherwise we'll take measures that are necessary. In any case a deal is in the interest of all."
French European affairs minister Clément Beaune: "We are still very far from an agreement. There can be no agreement unless there is one that gives sustainable and wide-ranging access to British waters."
Downing Street says it will not compromise on taking back control of fishing waters. The fishing sector adds 0.2% to UK GDP.
AR Tear it all up and extend the transition.
Proteins: Deepmind Breakthrough
Deepmind researchers have solved one of the greatest challenges in modern biology by developing an AI method to visualize proteins.
EMBL deputy director-general Ewan Birney: "I nearly fell off my chair when I saw these results. It's hard to know what the impact will be because it's been such a holy grail."
Researchers will soon have a tool that can achieve in days what previously took years. Deepmind is owned by Google.
AI cracks protein folding
The DeepMind AI program AlphaFold can predict how proteins fold into 3D shapes.
DeepMind founder and chief executive Demis Hassabis: "These algorithms are now becoming mature enough and powerful enough to be applicable to really challenging scientific problems."
Protein folding has been a grand challenge in biology for 50 years. Proteins are chains of amino acids that fold into shapes that determine their function. We know of more than 200 million proteins, but structures are known for only a few of them.
DeepMind researchers trained their algorithm on a public database of about 170 000 protein sequences and their shapes. Running on GPUs, the training took a few weeks.
In the biennial competition CASP, where entrants are given the amino acid sequences for about 100 proteins and asked to solve them, AlphaFold not only outperformed other programs but reached an accuracy comparable to slow and expensive lab methods.
EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute director emeritus Janet Thornton: "Knowing these structures will really help us to understand how human beings operate and function, how we work."
AR AI will rule the world.
Saab Gripen E
Akshata Murty, Rishi Sunak
No 11 boss Sunak is a former
Goldmann Sachs banker and
was educated at Winchester
and Oxford. His wife Akshata
is the daughter of an Indian
billionaire and is richer
than the Queen.
2020 St Andrew's Day
The EU will call on the US to seize a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity to forge a new global alliance. A draft EU plan proposes new cooperation on such issues as digital regulation, tackling the pandemic, and fighting deforestation. The EU−US partnership needs "maintenance and renewal" if the democratic world is to assert its interests against "authoritarian powers" and "closed economies" and to meet the "strategic challenge" posed by China. Prepared by the European Commission and the EU high representative for foreign policy for endorsement on December 10−11, the plan proposes an EU−US summit in early 2021.
AR Good plan
2020 November 29
Roger Penrose is the greatest living contributor to the development of Einstein's theory of gravity. Penrose proved that the existence of black holes is a robust prediction of the theory.
Penrose studied mathematics and took his PhD at Cambridge in 1957. He then got a job at Birkbeck College, London.
In 1964, he applied Einstein's theory to a star imploding under its own gravity to form a black hole. He proved that a singularity is inevitable. A black hole must contain a singularity.
Stephen Hawking, in his PhD thesis, used Penrose's methods to show that according to Einstein's theory of gravity the universe began in a big bang.
Penrose and Hawking joined forces two years later to write their classic account of what became known as the Penrose−Hawking singularity theorems.
In 2016, astronomers working at LIGO announced that they had detected gravitational waves. According to Einstein's theory, the waves were emitted in a cataclysmic collision over a billion years ago between two black holes.
The central challenge of modern physics is to bring together quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of gravity. We think the solution will entail a radically new understanding of space and time. Black holes are the best laboratory for exploring this program.
In 2020, Roger Penrose was awarded the Nobel prize for physics.
AR Great work
Rishi Sunak Backs Brexit
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is a Brexiteer. His friends say he has been a Brexiteer since the age of 18.
Whitehall insiders know that Brexit, with or without a deal, is an economic disaster. The official estimate is that without a deal, national income would be lowered by 7.7% over 15 years, and even with a deal the hit would be almost 5%.
Sunak now finds himself losing popularity as he warns of budgetary restraint to come. Yet he is willing the country on to go ahead with Brexit, which would severely damage the economy's capacity to generate tax revenue.
By championing Brexit, our chancellor is a party to a process that is guaranteed to remove a huge chunk of the economy whose taxable capacity would make it easier for him to cut government borrowing in future.
Andrew Bailey is the governor of the Bank of England and the chair of the monetary policy committee. The looming chaos at the ports in the new year, and the inflationary impact of Brexit on the prices of the vast quantity of food we import from the continent, must be a serious worry to him.
The governor says that no-deal would be even more damaging to the economy in the long run than coronavirus.
AR Sack Sunak, back Bailey.
2020 November 28
The carbon-nitrogen-oxygen (CNO) fusion cycle helps power the Sun. It is the dominant power source in heavier stars, but it has not yet been directly detected in a star.
Stars mostly fuse hydrogen into helium. In lighter stars, this mostly happens through proton-proton (pp) chains. But in heavier, hotter stars with high metallicity (elements above helium), the CNO cycle predominates.
Neutrinos emitted from the pp chain have a different spectral signature than neutrinos emitted from the CNO cycle. Spectral measurements could confirm CNO burning in the Sun, where it may add 1% to the solar flux.
Central metallicity, as determined by the CNO neutrino rate from the core, is related to metallicity elsewhere in a star. Neutrinos are the only direct probe we have for stellar cores, but they are hard to measure.
The Borexino collaboration detects neutrinos as flashes of light produced when neutrinos collide with electrons in a scintillator. It may detect CNO neutrinos.
AR We hope so.
2020 November 27
Our lives are a gift. We grow by losing ourselves in service. Looking to the common good means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.
There is always a way to escape destruction. We have to act precisely there, where the door opens. This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities, and to commit to act on our dreams.
We cannot return to the false securities we had before the crisis. We need a politics that can integrate the poor and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives.
No one is saved alone. We are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.
AR My cut is drastic.
Richard J. Evans
The UK joined the European project in 1973. Its terms of entry were changed in 1984. The Single Market was created in 1993.
The end of the Cold War brought back the spectre of the threat of Germany. The right wing of the Tory party portrayed the EU as a front for German domination.
Immigration and the financial crisis persuaded many voters to back Leave in 2016. Older voters were less educated and more likely to vote Leave.
The official Remain campaign was feeble and poorly led. It made no attempt to counter scaremongering on immigration. Both sides campaigned against the EU as it then existed.
The failure of the EU to take firm action against Poland and Hungary is a betrayal of its values. But the continuing cohesion of the 27 remaining member nations in the Brexit negotiations is impressive.
English nationalism has driven hostility to the EU. Scotland voted by a large majority to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland voted to remain. Brexit draws a hard border either down the Irish Sea or in Ireland itself.
Brexit will make the UK relatively poorer. It has unleashed demons in England. It has damaged the national culture.
AR Brexit is a disaster all round.
When we measure the rate the universe is expanding, we get different results if we extrapolate from the early universe than if we look at exploding stars in nearby galaxies. New measurements have made the problem worse.
The rate of universal expansion is accelerating. We say this is due to dark energy. Also, galaxies and clusters of galaxies rotate too fast to match the visible matter they contain. We say this is due to dark matter.
The standard model of cosmology is known as ΛCDM, with Λ for dark energy and CDM for cold dark matter. It accounts well for the data and fits with our best map of the cosmic microwave background (CMB).
The close fit with the CMB suggests a test of consistency. We can measure the cosmic expansion rate when the CMB was released and use the model to wind forward and predict the current rate of expansion, the Hubble constant.
Winding forward from the big bang using ΛCDM, we get a Hubble constant of 68 km/s/Mpc. But measuring the distance to stars in nearby galaxies, we get 73−74 km/s/Mpc. This discrepancy is the Hubble tension.
Last year, a measurement made using a third method matched the higher value. This summer, a new look at the CMB matched the lower value. Changing ΛCDM to adjust the Hubble constant spoils the other predictions of the theory. Something is wrong.
Elie Cartan proposed a simple extension to general relativity called torsion. Einstein assumed mass is the only property of matter that warps spacetime. Cartan proposed that spacetime may also be affected by the quantum spin in celestial objects. Adding torsion could solve the Hubble tension.
We can test the idea of torsion by comparing two ways to measure distance on cosmic scales. One computes the distance of standard candles by their angular diameter. The other computes the distance by their luminosity. In general relativity, a distance-duality equation relates the two distances. Torsion changes the equation.
In the next few years, we expect a flood of new data. Both ESA and NASA plan missions to measure the shapes and distances of remote galaxies. This may be the end of ΛCDM.
AR Adding torsion is a good move.
View from Finland
Pfizer and BioNTech say final
analysis shows coronavirus
vaccine is 95% effective
with no safety concerns
2020 November 26
UK Economic Emergency
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs yesterday that UK government borrowing in 2020−21 is set to be the highest ever in peacetime and warned of the worst economic contraction in 300 years. He called the outlook an economic emergency. The OBR estimates the deficit for 2020−21 at almost £400 billion, almost 20% of GDP.
AR Cut back on vanity projects (big weapons and Brexit).
Brexit: EU Seeks Compromise
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warns that without a major shift by Downing Street he will pull out of the Brexit negotiations. He says further negotiations are pointless if the UK will not compromise on the outstanding issues.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen: "These are decisive days for negotiations with the UK .. We're ready to be creative. But we are not ready to put into question the integrity of the single market."
She said legal texts on judicial and social security coordination, trade in goods and services, and transport were almost finalised. But three issues can still make the difference between a deal and no deal: fishing rights, state aid, and legal remedies.
EU leaders meet on 10 December. The European parliament meets on 28 December to consent to a deal. Any agreement needs time for legal and parliamentary scrutiny and translation.
AR My national government is not representing me.
Brexit: Capitalists Seek War
Brexit is the outcome of a civil war between housetrained capitalism, which seeks to live within the administrative state, and warlord capitalism, which seeks to rip up regulations and deconstruct democracy.
Chaos is an opportunity for the warlords to slash regulations and get rich. A no-deal Brexit will unleash dog-eat-dog capitalism. Housetrained capitalists are horrified that Brexit will let warlords wipe them out.
Warlord money bought the Johnson government. The worst companies and oligarchs spend money on politics to avoid regulation, so they dominate political funding. They see the UK as a beachhead among the rich nations.
Nigel Farage and similar blowhards pumped out a smokescreen of xenophobia and culture wars. The media reported the smokescreen, not the battle. Remainers got lost in a culture war.
AR Politics in the UK is deeply corrupt.
2020 November 25
America Is Back
Joe Biden: "America is strongest when it works with its allies. Collectively, this team has secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory, made possible through decades of experience working with our partners. That's how we truly keep America safe."
Joe Biden's secretary of state pick Tony Blinken last year said Brexit was a "total mess" and added: "This is not just the dog that caught the car, this is the dog that caught the car and the car goes into reverse and runs over the dog."
He said "our interests clearly would have been in keeping Britain in" and the Irish peace process would be "a heck of a lot tougher" after Brexit.
No End of Physics
Defining progress in terms of discovering new particles or forces is a myopic view of physics. The aim of physics is to understand in a precise, mathematical way all manifestation of matter and energy in the universe. We have barely started.
Instead of studying a phenomenon and then discovering a law of nature, we can first design a new law and then reverse engineer a system that displays the phenomena. In the 20th century, scientists sought out the building blocks of reality. This century, we will begin to explore all there is to be made with these building blocks.
Natural evolution is accelerated to breakneck speeds in the laboratory. A genetically designed bacterium is no less worthy of study than one found in the wild. New technologies effectively bring quantum mechanics to the macroscopic scales of everyday life. At some point, we will be able to order every item on the menu of reality.
Once we are fully aware of this grander scope, a different image of the research enterprise emerges. The ship of science is leaving the safe inland waterways carved by nature, and is heading for the open ocean, exploring a brave new world.
2020 November 24
Your Brain Is Not for Thinking
Lisa Feldman Barrett
Your brain runs your body systems to keep you alive and well. Neuroscientists say your conscious thoughts and feelings are more in service to the needs of managing your body than you realize.
Your brain acts largely outside your awareness. In every moment, your brain figures out what your body needs for the next moment and executes a plan to fill those needs in advance.
Your brain runs your body in a budgeting a process called allostasis. It automatically predicts and prepares to meet bodily needs before they arise. It views your mental life as a series of deposits and withdrawals.
There is no such thing as a purely mental cause. Every mental experience has roots in the physical budgeting of your body. Physical actions can help in addressing psychological problems.
AR I agree with all this.
MIT has a new Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Fundamental Interactions.
Director Jesse Thaler: "Researchers from a variety of different fields of physics, as well as researchers who work on computer science, machine learning, or AI, can come together and have dialog and teach each other things."
MIT physicist Max Tegmark: "We're hoping to discover all kinds of new laws of physics. We're already shown that it can rediscover laws of physics."
Tegmark and his team showed a neural network a video of rockets flying around. The computer discovered the essential equations of motion using a recursive method known as regression.
Thaler and his team fed LHC data to a neural network. With no knowledge of quantum field theory, the system distinguished between quarks and gluons and found that quarks exist in different types, like up and down.
2020 November 23
Oxford Vaccine Effective
Oxford University is poised to apply for approval of its vaccine after trial results show it is effective at stopping Covid-19. Initial findings suggest that tweaking the dosing schedule may make it around 90% effective. Also, the vaccine seems to lower rates of asymptomatic infection.
The vaccine is cheap and easy to handle and can be stored in an ordinary fridge. It uses an adenovirus vector to insert genetic code for coronavirus surface fragments into human cells. The cells then make fragments to trigger the immune system.
AstraZeneca will make and distribute the vaccine.
AR More good news
2020 November 22
The Brexit Revolution
Boris Johnson is not an ideologue. He just wants to be popular. He never had the stomach to do unpopular things.
The Brexit revolutionaries are serial incompetents. They made Johnson the leader of their movement. They knew he was an opportunistic charlatan but went ahead and deceived themselves anyway.
Johnson believes he can pivot away from Brexit and the hard right to resume business as usual and turn things around in time for the next election. He does not anticipate the kind of chaos most are now predicting. This is not going to work.
Johnson cannot sweep Brexit under the carpet. He either has to stick it out or run away. Somebody is going to have to explain the discrepancies between what the Leave campaign said and what is unfolding in reality.
The humiliations the UK will endure flow from refusal to adopt a Brexit plan. The Brexiteers did not know what they were doing. They will be defeated.
AR My short cut of a polemical text
2020 November 21
US: Biden Wins Big
Joe Biden has decisively won the US presidential election and the popular vote. He has won nearly 80 million votes, more votes than any US presidential candidate in history by a big margin. Donald Trump got fewer than 74 million votes but still refuses to concede defeat.
In the Electoral College, Biden is projected to get 306 electoral votes while Trump gets 232. Trump is refusing to concede the race, making false claims about widespread voter fraud with no evidence, and attempting to undermine the democratic process.
The president and his allies have refused to cooperate in a transition of power. This blocks the Biden team from accessing millions of dollars in taxpayer funds and other resources. Biden's team warns of damaging consequences for Americans.
AR Republicans: Invoke the 25th, let Mike Pence take over, and get on with the transition.
UK: Home Office Scandal
Boris Johnson told Conservative MPs to protect home secretary Priti Patel after an official inquiry found that she swore, shouted at, and bullied senior officials. His demand came after he took the unusual step of overruling Sir Alex Allan, his adviser on ministerial standards, who said Patel had breached the ministerial code of conduct. Sir Alex resigned after his findings were published and Johnson chose not to accept them.
Johnson told Conservative MPs to "form a square around the prittster" [sic].
Warned in 2019
Former home office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam says he told Priti Patel not to shout and swear at staff soon after she became home secretary in July 2019. He resigned over the row and launched a constructive dismissal claim. He says he was not asked to contribute to the new report.
AR British infantry at Waterloo formed squares to protect themselves from French attacks.
Physics arXiv Blog
Stephen Wolfram has spent much of his career studying and categorizing cellular automata. His main finding is that the simplest algorithms can produce huge complexity.
In 2002, he published his results in A New Kind of Science.
Wolfram now claims the laws of physics emerge from this complexity. Relativity and spacetime curvature are an emergent property in these algorithmic universes. Quantum mechanics is an emergent property in them too.
His theory of everything (TOE) is that relativity, quantum mechanics, and computational complexity are essentially different ways of viewing the same thing.
His theory suggests:
◊ The elementary length is about 10−93 meters (not the Planck length 10−35 m)
◊ The radius of an electron is about 10−81 m
◊ Mass is quantized into units about 1036 times smaller than the electron mass
◊ Particles like electrons are composed of much simpler elements
◊ An electron is composed of about 1035 of them
◊ Such elements may make up dark matter
Wolfram is a maverick.
AR See my blog 2020-06-20.
2020 November 20
A Promised Land
Barack Obama's new memoir ends in 2011, shortly after his roasting of Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The book testifies to his faith that if he just describes his thinking in sufficient detail, and clearly lays out the constellation of obstacles and constraints he faced, any reasonable American would have to understand why he governed as he did.
Obama addresses the book to the next generation, but the story he tells is less about unbridled possibility and more about the forces that inhibit it.
He inherited a state of emergency, when the economy was getting devoured by the Great Recession. He had ambitious ideas for structural change, but his team said attempts to mete out Old Testament justice to the banks would send markets into a panic.
Conservatives were quick to seize on this and use to their advantage. Republicans exploited the feelings of helplessness and resentment that their own policies had helped to bring about. The result was a drubbing in the 2010 midterms.
Obama's commitment to moderation rankled some progressives. Yet Republicans were petulant at the prospect of working with his administration: "It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic."
AR Good president, bad times.
Britannia Rules the Waves?
Boris Johnson: "We shall use our extra defence spending to restore Britain's position as the foremost naval power in Europe, taking forward our plans for eight Type 26 and five Type 31 frigates, and support ships to supply our carriers."
France currently has more warships than the UK. A Royal Navy source: "If you look at the list of the French ships, some of those are getting on for 20 years old. This is going to be the most modern fleet in Europe. We are going to develop the next generation of warships."
Johnson says HMS Queen Elizabeth will head to the Indian Ocean and East Asia next year: "We shall forward deploy more of our naval assets in the world's most important regions, protecting the shipping lanes that supply our nation."
On a more futuristic note, he said: "Our warships and combat vehicles will carry directed energy weapons destroying targets with inexhaustible lasers, and for them the phrase 'out of ammunition' will become redundant."
Britain will have RAF Space Command to launch British satellites on a British rocket in 2022. A British cyber force will take down enemy computer systems and hack into enemy air defences to protect British warplanes.
AR Money to buy off the jingoists.
2020 November 19
US: Over 250 000 Covid Deaths
The New York Times
The United States has now recorded over 250 000 coronavirus-related deaths. The number is expected to keep climbing steeply as infections surge nationwide. Back in March, Dr Anthony Fauci predicted the virus it might kill up to 240 000 Americans. It has now passed that mark, with no end in sight.
AR We know who to blame.
UK: More Billions 4 Weapons
Boris Johnson has pledged to end Britain's "era of retreat" with the largest investment in the military since the Cold War and plans for a new space command and artificial intelligence agency. The prime minister will reveal a four-year funding settlement for the Ministry of Defence today, worth an additional £16.5 billion, to transform the armed forces and bolster global influence.
AR Spending money we don't have.
UK: Big Majority Says Brexit Wrong
A new poll find support for Brexit in the UK is at the lowest point since the referendum: 51% say leaving the EU was the wrong move, but only 38% say it was right.
AR We say revoke, rejoin, repent.
2020 November 18
US: Lady Liberty
Thomas L. Friedman
Lady Liberty was walking across Fifth Avenue on November 3 when out of nowhere a crazy guy driving a bus ran the red light. Lady Liberty leapt out of the way barely in time, and she's now sitting on the curb, her heart pounding, just glad to be alive. But she knows how narrowly she escaped, that this reckless driver never stops at red lights and is still out there, and, oh my God, lots of his passengers are still applauding the thrilling ride.
AR Start fixing the problem in 2021.
UK: Green Recovery
Now is the time to plan a green recovery with high-skilled jobs that give people the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to make the country cleaner, greener, and more beautiful.
My 10-point plan:
⊛ Make the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind
⊛ Turn water into energy with investment in hydrogen
⊛ Take forward plans for nuclear power
⊛ Invest in electric vehicles, charging points, and batteries
⊛ Have cleaner public transport, green buses, and cycle lanes
⊛ Achieve transatlantic fight with a zero-emission plane
⊛ Make homes, schools, and hospitals greener
⊛ Establish an industry in carbon capture and storage
⊛ Plant many hectares of trees and rewild the countryside
⊛ Commercialise new low-carbon technologies
AR That's better, thank Carrie.
SpaceX Falcon 9 with Crew
Dragon bound for ISS
Moderna releases clinical
trial results of a Covid-19
mRNA vaccine showing
an efficacy of 94.5%
2020 November 17
UK: Women Take Over
Last week's power struggle in Downing Street culminated in the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain. The women around Boris Johnson mounted a daring attack on the Vote Leave bully boys in an attempt to force the prime minister back to the centre of the political board. They also exposed a culture of misogyny in No 10.
The briefing war showed the machismo that had taken hold. Carrie Symonds was called "Princess Nut Nut" and Allegra Stratton was reduced to tears by personal attacks on her. The atmosphere was so toxic that some young female staff felt scared to go into work and former aides were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Amber Rudd: "The Vote Leave crew wanted to turn everything into a battle. It was deliberately violent, the language was terrible, and they made the rules to suit them."
The women asserting themselves have different priorities and temperaments. Symonds is a green campaigner, Stratton wants to address regional inequalities, and Munira Mirza is a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party who wants a culture war. They are united only in hating the macho culture in Downing Street.
A senior Tory: "The real problem is that Boris is prime minister and he's not willing to make decisions."
AR So kick him out.
Genome Junk Evolves Vital Genes
Essential genes are often thought to evolve only slowly because changing would be fatal. But a new study shows that a large class of genes in Drosophila fruit flies are both essential for survival and evolving rapidly. The young genes are as likely as old ones to encode essential functions.
The ZAD-ZNF genes are a family of transcription factors in insects. About 70 of them are present in all Drosophila species, but 20 were gained and lost several times over 40 million years of evolution. Among the 20, the most rapidly evolving genes are much more likely to encode essential functions than the others.
Nicknack and Oddjob are two essential ZAD-ZNF genes that evolve quickly. They do not localize to euchromatin, the part of the genome where most genes are located. Instead, they localize to the heterochromatin, the regions of DNA that contain genomic junk. They evolve rapidly to remain functional.
Researchers swapped copies of Nicknack between D. melanogaster and D. simulans and found Nicknack from melanogaster saved simulans females but not males. The simulans males have a Y chromosome full of junk that overwhelms melanogaster Nicknack, whereas the Nicknack restores enough function for survival in the females.
HHMI researcher Harmit Malik: "What if it's actually the evolution of these heterochromatin sequences that created the need for this essential function first?"
2020 November 16
US: New World Order
The New York Times
President-elect Joe Biden will restore dignity to the badly sullied image of the United States. He will take a more predictable, nuanced, and sympathetic approach to foreign relations.
Biden will promptly rejoin the Paris accord on climate change and make climate action central to his administration. He will restore the US relationship with the WHO and join forces with the rest of the world to halt the rampage of the coronavirus.
Biden is also expected to recommit the United States to exposing human rights abuses. He aims to revive the nuclear deal with Iran and agree with Russia on limiting strategic nuclear arms. America will return to a role in the world that reflects its historical values.
The United States has always derived much of its strength from its soft power, multiplied by its alliances. The Biden−Harris administration will lead America back.
AR All good news
UK: The Johnson Legacy
Boris Johnson will leave as his legacy a transformation of the UK relationship with the EU. He has determined the nature of Brexit.
The UK government estimates that "no deal" on trade lowers UK GDP by about 8% over 15 years relative to staying in the EU. That might amount to halving cumulative growth in GDP per head. Even a free trade agreement could cost 5%. Yet the issues over which the government is fighting with the EU are absurd.
Johnson wishes to blame the inevitable pains of Brexit on EU intransigence. His English nationalism could be the end of the union of England and Scotland. His populism targets parliament, business, the civil service, the judiciary, human rights, and the BBC. The mess he has made in managing the pandemic is staggering.
Johnson is not a serious man. He is unlikely ever to govern competently. He is an important politician, but a damaging one.
Behind the lies, chaos
Dominic Cummings and his associates will leave behind a legacy of destructive mayhem.
We saw the loss of any standards of conduct at the heart of government. This has backfired spectacularly, prompting a rebellion in both Commons and Lords and souring relations with the new US president.
Younger people see their government is corrupt. The public has been misled about UK strengths and weaknesses. The country faces massive challenges that will require hard choices.
The prime minister in action shows engaging optimism. But behind him is chaos.
AR Boris, extend the transition and resign.
Volkstrauertag. L to R: Duchess of Cornwall, Prince of Wales, Elke Büdenbender,
Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Bellevue Palace, Berlin
What is a particle?
What Huygens saw on
Saturn's moon Titan
2020 November 15
ZDF-Live, 1230 UTC
Seine Königliche Hoheit, Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales und Duke of Cornwall,
hält die Gedenkrede im Bundestag.
AR Charles: "Wir werden immer Freunde, Partner und Verbündete sein."
UK: Downing Street Disorder
On Wednesday evening, Boris Johnson spoke with the Queen and with Carrie Symonds.
On Friday evening, both his chief adviser Dominic Cummings and his Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain were gone.
This was fallout from a power struggle over government communications between Cain and Allegra Stratton, the new Downing Street press secretary. Symonds and Stratton wanted Johnson to set a new tone as PM.
Cummings had no time for running 10 Downing Street. Johnson had discussed the chief of staff role with Sajid Javid and Lord Feldman, but neither wanted to work with Cummings.
Cain was already doing parts of the job. He had the idea of holding media briefings on camera but did not want Allegra to front Downing Street press conferences.
Johnson urged Allegra to apply for the job. She did, and she accepted it on the basis that she would report to Johnson. She told Cain: "I can't work with you."
On November 4, Johnson invited Allegra to lunch with him and Carrie at Chequers. He suggested Cain as chief of staff, but both women expressed concerns about the macho culture in Downing Street.
On November 8, Johnson and Cain dined in Downing Street and discussed what was going wrong.
On Monday evening, Johnson told Cain he wanted him to be chief of staff. Cain said he would need an OK from Carrie. Ministers and MPs reacted with fury, Carrie was unhappy, and Allegra said she would have to quit.
The episode exhumed old hatred of Cummings and his culture of aggression. Mistrust was increased by a leak when the media reported plans for a second national lockdown even before Johnson had made up his mind. Cain and Cummings were both accused of being the "chatty rat" behind the leak.
A Whitehall source: "Boris was apocalyptically incandescent."
On Friday, Johnson called in Cain and Cummings to tell them it was their last day in 10 Downing Street. He was angry at the media briefings against Carrie.
A former cabinet minister: "We have a constitutional conundrum that the prime minister's girlfriend is deciding senior non-ministerial appointments, which I think is without precedent."
Vote Leavers saw a pair of "posh southern women" ousting the working-class northerner Cain who got the job on merit. They fear Stratton and Symonds will lead Johnson astray.
Lee made Allegra cry
Former Guardian and TV journalist Allegra Stratton was in tears on Saturday after being the butt of negative briefings by former director of communications Lee Cain.
Boris Johnson was warned that her appointment would look like cronyism because of her friendship with former CCHQ communications director Carrie Symonds.
Carrie hated Lee and Dom
On Friday evening, hours after Dominic Cummings had left 10 Downing Street, his allies say they heard the sounds of a victory party from the upstairs flat inhabited by Carrie Symonds. Her friends deny there was a boisterous celebration.
At the end of the summer, Boris Johnson and Symonds hosted a dinner at Chequers. Johnson said to Allegra Stratton: "Come and be my spokesperson, you would be great. Obviously there has to be a process, but I want you."
Carrie was keen for Stratton to represent the government at daily TV press conferences. Stratton got the job and starts in January. But then she started clashing with Lee Cain and Cummings. The chemistry between her and Cain was bad, and both threatened to resign.
Allies of Dom and Lee say Carrie has hated Lee since 2017, when she applied for the job of special adviser to then foreign secretary Johnson and lost out to Lee. Now they say she calls No 10's private office up to 20 times a day and texts Boris up to 25 times an hour over policy issues.
Stratton is a Cambridge graduate and a broadcaster who fought off competition to get the job and will front White House-style press briefings. Cain said she was aggressive and divisive. His friends say she would "pop upstairs for a cosy drink with Carrie in the flat" whenever he argued with her.
Cain let a hard-drinking and sexist macho culture flourish in No 10. Vote Leave loyalists called Carrie Symonds "Princess Nut Nut" behind her back. Friends of Carrie say she has no regrets about opposing Cain's appointment.
During his meeting with Cummings and Cain, Johnson grilled them on the turmoil of the past few days. He confronted them with hostile texts forwarded to Symonds and told them to get out and never return.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said of Cummings: "The relationship with the prime minister fell off a cliff."
AR Former Daily Mail journalist James Slack, author of the notorious 2017 headline ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE, replaces Lee Cain as Downing Street director of communications.
2020 November 14
UK: Brexit Standoff
CSU MEP Manfred Weber: "I see what is happening now in Downing Street. We can also see this as a quite chaotic situation .. So don't tell us we should be ready for compromise .. We need a clear idea from Boris Johnson now and I think it's now time for leadership .. It's time to take over responsibility and come to a common understanding."
UK government official: "David [Frost] and the team are completely focused on the negotiations. The prime minister has been clear that he wants a deal if there is a deal to be done .. We need to see some realism and creativity from their side if we are to bridge the significant gaps that remain."
AR Extend the transition period by a year. Hold a second referendum.
2020 November 13
US: Biden Wins
CNN, 1914 UTC
Joe Biden wins Georgia, bringing his total Electoral College votes to 306, compared to Donald Trump's 232. Trump had won by 306−232 in 2016.
AR No doubt now
UK: Cummings Out
BBC News, 1552 UTC
Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings has left Number 10 with immediate effect. He left 10 Downing Street carrying a cardboard box. His departure was brought forward given the "upset" in the team.
AR Good riddance
German federal president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has hopes on three main issues with Joe Biden as POTUS 46.
Democracy: "Let us seize this opportunity to join forces with a US led by Joe Biden and reinvigorate democracy and the power of reason in our societies."
Pandemic: "No country is as sorely missed as the United States in the efforts of the international community to present a united front against the pandemic."
Europe: "We Germans must understand that a strong Europe is our investment in this transatlantic relationship."
AR Alles klar
Nuclear Diamond Cells
A nuclear power cell can last for thousands of years without ever being charged or replaced. It runs on radioactive diamonds made from nuclear waste.
Betavoltaic cells produce tiny amounts of power for a long time. They can provide a steady drip of electricity to small devices for millennia. They can be used whenever we cannot regularly swap out a battery, such as sensors in remote or hazardous locations, or for pacemakers or wearables. There are no health risks.
A typical betavoltaic cell consists of thin layers of radioactive material sandwiched between semiconductors. As the nuclear material decays, it emits beta particles that liberate electrons in the semiconductor to create an electric current.
The radioactive isotope carbon-14 can function both as a radioactive source and a semiconductor, and it has a half-life of 5700 years. We can grow artificial C14 diamonds in a chemical reactor. We can recover C14 from the graphite blocks for the control rods in a nuclear reactor, which are otherwise nuclear waste.
Such cells will need years of refinement in the lab.
AR Sounds good
2020 November 12
US: Washington Power Struggle
Messages from foreign leaders to president-elect Joe Biden are sitting at the State Department but the Trump administration is preventing him from accessing them.
On Tuesday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo refused to acknowledge Biden's victory: "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration."
As the election count continues, Biden's lead has grown to more than 5 million.
AR Trump, it's over.
UK: London Power Struggle
Downing Street was in chaos on Wednesday night as Boris Johnson's communications chief quit in a power struggle. Lee Cain said he would quit after the PM reversed an earlier offer to make him his chief of staff.
The Vote Leave cabal's influence in Downing Street seems to be waning. Chief spad and Cain friend Dominic Cummings was in talks with the prime minister about his future. Brexit talks negotiator and Cain ally David Frost was also said to be considering his position.
Johnson's partner Carrie Symonds was among those urging him not to appoint Cain, saying he needed better advice. Conservative ministers and MPs are celebrating the end of the Vote Leave grip.
Earlier on Wednesday, the official number of UK Covid deaths exceeded 50 000.
AR Boris, heed Carrie, dump Dom.
The Pattern Seekers
Simon Baron-Cohen says human invention began 70K−100K years ago. Evolution reconfigured the functional architecture of human brains and enabled our ancestors to use recursive thought to grasp causal chains in events.
Baron-Cohen says the genes for autism drove the evolution of human invention. A systemizing engine that drove us to ask questions and to experiment with patterns used an empathy circuit to bridge minds for communication.
The human cultural explosion began around 40K years ago.
AR No surprise there.
Big Bang Nuclear Fusion
Physicists in the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA) in Italy have recreated a nuclear reaction that happened 2−3 minutes after the Big Bang (BB). Their measurement helps us understand BB nucleosynthesis.
BB nucleosynthesis began when protons and neutrons fused to form deuterium (D), an isotope of hydrogen (H). Most of the D quickly fused into elements like helium (He) and lithium (Li). The new measurement has pinned down the fusion rate of D with a proton to form the isotope He-3.
We can say how various isotopes of H, He, and Li formed. But uncertainty about the fusion rate of D to He-3 stopped us calculating what the cosmos looked like 12 Ts later, when the universe first lit up to us. A theoretical estimate of the rate in 2016 disagreed with a lab measurement from 1997.
LUNA measured a fusion rate between the 2016 prediction and the 1997 measurement. Fed into the equations of BB nucleosynthesis, it predicts a primordial matter density and a cosmic expansion rate that match observations.
AR Well done!
Brexit Buyers' Remorse
⦿ Simon Hix from YouGov data
Poll question: "In hindsight do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?"
2020 November 11
Trump: Bunker Mentality
The Trump administration is tottering, with loyalty tests, attacks on the military chain of command, a bunker mentality, and delusional claims of political victory.
President-elect Joe Biden is projecting calm amid the chaos. He is taking calls with leaders of top US allies in preparation for his ascent to power. While Donald Trump is staying behind closed doors, tweeting in all-caps, and purging the Pentagon leadership, Biden is reassuring the American people.
Trump is withholding the access and funding that incoming presidents normally rely on to get started. He will remain president until January 20.
AR Alles im Griff.
Brexit: Deal or No Deal?
A shock is coming when transitional arrangements expire on 1 January. The shock is double if negotiations collapse. The border is not ready and there will be no goodwill on the EU side to finesse a UK shambles.
Boris Johnson can choose between a hard landing and a crash landing. A rational audit of national interests points him to a hard landing. But Johnson could choose a big row with Brussels.
Then he would face a row over the Irish border. President-elect Joe Biden sees sabotage of the Good Friday agreement as foul play and an affront to his Irish ancestry. Washington will side with Dublin. An EU deal is needed first for any US deal.
Johnson is fine with a messy Brexit, but he wants it not to be his mess. He would rather say mission accomplished than make yet more excuses. That leaves Britain without a policy on Europe.
AR Hamlet: Answer the question!
A Fine Bodge!
Boris Johnson's message of congratulation to Joe Biden was a bodged overwrite of an unused message to Donald Trump.
HMG spokesman: "As you'd expect, two statements were prepared in advance for the outcome of this closely contested election. A technical error meant that parts of the alternative message were embedded in the background of the graphic."
AR I checked — this is not fake news.
⦿ Daniel Casanave
Yuval Noah Harari
2020 November 10
The Pfizer candidate vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing covid-19. The phase III trial found more than 90% fewer symptomatic coronavirus cases among trial participants who received 2 doses 3 weeks apart compared to those who received a placebo. Pfizer is developing the vaccine in partnership with German biotech company BioNTech.
In the phase III clinical trial, the companies gave the vaccine or a placebo to 43 538 participants in a double-blinded study. They waited until there were 94 confirmed cases of covid-19, then unblinded the study and found that about 90% of the cases were in the placebo group.
The trial will go on until there have been 164 confirmed infections, with another interim assessment after 120 infections. That could happen before Christmas. But the chances of the result flipping are vanishingly small.
Pfizer expect to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Phase IV trials are also required to pick up any rare adverse reactions. The vaccine is an RNA vaccine that uses mRNA from the virus to elicit an immune response, so there may be surprises.
German biotech company BioNTech is based in the city of Mainz. Its shares shot up 23.4% on Monday morning to a total value of $21.9 billion. The company employs 1300 people and only made its debut on the US stock market a year ago.
Scientists Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin and oncologist Christoph Huber founded BioNTech in 2008, originally to develop new types of immunotherapy against cancer. When news of the coronavirus first emerged, they redirected their resources.
Sahin said the company could develop a vaccine but would struggle with distribution. Pfizer paid $185 million upfront and will release another $563 million when development is complete.
Türeci and Sahin are children of Turkish Gastarbeiter. They met at Saarland University and have been married since 2002.
AR A happy story
2020 November 9
BBC News, 1130 UTC
The first effective coronavirus vaccine can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19, analysis shows. The developers — Pfizer and BioNTech — described it as a "great day for science and humanity" and will apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of the month.
The bad news
October was the worst month for the pandemic so far. The number of Covid-19 cases worldwide has passed 50 million. The second wave in the past 30 days accounts for a quarter of all cases.
The United States is the worst-affected country, with 10 million cases, and has lost about 240 000 people to the pandemic this year. The global death total is over 1 250 000.
Edinburgh professor and SAGE expert Mark Woolhouse says half of the positive cases in the UK are not being identified.
China reported 33 new Covid-19 cases on 8 November and said 32 of the cases were imported in people returning from overseas.
AR A vaccine — this rescues next year for us.
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari's brief history of humankind, has been one of the most spectacular publishing successes of the past decade. It grew out of an undergraduate lecture series on world history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Harari and his husband and agent-manager Itzik Yahav talk of a TV adaptation and a touring exhibit.
Harari: "Nuclear war, ecological collapse, and the rise of disruptive technologies like AI — these three threats can really destroy human civilization if we don't handle them correctly. And all three demand global cooperation to deal with them. If we react in the wrong way to the present crisis, it will destroy whatever remains of global cooperation."
AR My long review
Carbon Dioxide + Water + Sunlight = Food
A company from Finland, Solar Foods, is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of carbon dioxide, water and electricity. It's a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50% protein content, 5−10% fat, and 20−25% carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour. The manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the potential for scalability seems unlimited. It will be launched in 2021.
AR Will virtuous healthivores browbeat us all into subsisting on Solein?
Melvin Vopson says information has mass. He supports this claim using special relativity and the Landauer principle. Rolf Landauer calculated in 1961 that erasing a bit of information releases a tiny amount of heat and said this proves information is not just mathematical but links it to thermodynamics: Irreversible computation raises entropy.
AR This is an off-the-wall proposal by Vopson, but there is scope to clarify it a little:
If the heat released by erasing 1 bit is 10−21 J, then the mass of 1 bit may be 10−38 kg,
but the total information in the known universe adds up to around 10+123 bits,
suggesting that the total mass of the information defining it is around 10+85 kg,
whereas the total visible mass of the known universe is around 10+53 kg. Oops!
There is scope for the idea that information has mass, but present knowledge is way short of enabling us to put a number on the mass per bit.
Anyway, what about qubits?
⦿ Erin Schaff / The New York Times
Kamala Harris, Joe Biden
Pa 4 Biden
Pennsylvania's 20 votes
go to Joe Biden
Biden 273, Trump 214
(so far, 270 to win)
Biden 74 478 345 (50.5%)
Trump 70 329 970 (47.7%)
Lord of Misrule
Rory Stewart on
A masked Trump supporter
The dS/dS Correspondence
M. Alishahiha et al.
We present a holographic
duality for the de Sitter
static patch ..
2020 November 8
America: The People
We have won. I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify, who doesn't see Red and Blue states, but a United States, and who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people. For that is what America is about: the people.
We the people
America's democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it and never take it for granted. Protecting our democracy takes struggle, it takes sacrifice. There is joy in it and there is progress, because we the people have the power to build a better future.
Ding-dong, the jerk is gone. We have come to the end of a season of extreme misrule. Voters have rejected what can only be described as the crassest, vainest, stupidest, most dysfunctional leadership this country has ever suffered.
MAGA madness got nixed. The Democrats won. But it was their shabby experiment in centrism that led to MAGA. When the party of the left abandoned its populist traditions, the road was cleared for a particularly poisonous species of demagoguery. Republicans became ever bolder in their preposterous claim to represent the aspirations of ordinary people.
Republicans have not been permanently defeated. Their preening leader has gone down, but his toxic brand of workerism will soon be back, enlisting the disinherited and the lowly in the cause of the mighty. America's toboggan ride to hell will not stop until a Democratic president faces up to his party's mistakes.
America has grown sick of plutocracy. We don't enjoy sluicing everything we earn into the bank accounts of a few dozen billionaires. We want a healthcare system that works and an economy in which ordinary people prosper.
A Democrat in Biden's campaign team: "They do not think Boris Johnson is an ally. They think Britain is an ally. But there will be no special relationship with Boris Johnson."
A senior US politician: "If you think Joe hates him, you should hear Kamala."
A former Obama press aide called Johnson a "shapeshifting creep" and added: "We will never forget your racist comments about Obama and slavish devotion to Trump."
Johnson's relationship with Trump and his past association with Steve Bannon make him toxic to Biden and his team.
Biden's international priorities will be to reconnect with the EU and NATO and rejoin the Paris climate accord.
AR Biden: Be bold and banish Boris and his Brexit Britain to the back of the queue.
2020 November 7
Biden Wins Presidency
The New York Times
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was elected the 46th president of the United States on Saturday, promising to restore political normalcy and a spirit of national unity to confront raging health and economic crises, and making Donald J. Trump a one-term president after four years of tumult in the White House.
POTUS 46 = Joe Biden
CNN, 1630 UTC
Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been elected 46th president of the United States.
US Election Endgame
Donald Trump still has more than 10 weeks of power after losing the election. He plans to use this time to ratchet up the rhetoric to fever pitch and damage America.
Trump will lose the popular vote by millions of votes. He should be preparing to leave the White House, not be instructing his lawyers. There is no evidence of widespread illegal votes in any state.
The dispute could remain unresolved on January 20, 2021. US attorney general William Barr could say it is legal to recognize Trump for a second term while Democrats take to the streets.
Joe Biden will have work to do in the White House. Trumpism has hollowed out US government institutions. Biden needs to be focused on running America.
AR Republicans: Expel Trump.
Germany Looks Across the Atlantic
Severin Weiland, Christoph Schult
German foreign minister Heiko Maas says the transatlantic relationship must be patched up:
"We need each other."
The German government and the rest of the Berlin political establishment is now looking across the Atlantic with deep concern.
Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Röttgen says a re-elected Trump would be "completely unleashed" and Germany "would face a heightened need to more decisively defend" itself.
Trump undermined US relations with Germany from day one. Angela Merkel found his brand of politics both abhorrent and difficult to deal with.
Röttgen: "One thing would change immediately: We would once again treat each other sensibly."
AR Sighs of relief in Berlin, then.
Endgame for Johnson
Boris Johnson faces the return of Brexit. The likeliest outcome remains a deal, which will require major UK concessions. He will be accused of betrayal from Brexit hawks. If he goes for no deal, he will alienate Tory moderates.
Many Conservatives still think nothing much will change in January and people will not perceive a big difference to their lives. Others face political consequences from disruptions. All will face anger in the New Year if things go wrong.
Johnson will not find it easy to cement a special relationship with Joe Biden. One of Johnson's few good cards was his close relationship to the US presidency and the prospect of a US trade deal.
AR Trump goes, ergo Johnson goes.
2020 November 6
Biden's Nevada Lead Widens
John King, 1717 UTC
In Clark County, Nevada, Joe Biden received 19,995 votes in the latest ballot drop, and President Trump received 9,357. This tells you all you need to know. In the new votes, Joe Biden gets 65%. Statewide, he's just shy of 50%. As votes come in, Joe Biden builds the lead.
Donald Trump knows he's behind in Pennsylvania, behind in Georgia, behind in Arizona. If the dynamics of the race are going to change, Donald Trump cannot keep coming in underneath Joe Biden, certainly not with Joe Biden getting 65% with every batch of new votes.
Biden Takes Lead in Georgia
CNN, 1031 UTC
Joe Biden holds a 253−213 lead in the Electoral College. Ballots are still being counted in several key states. In addition to Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, the races in Alaska and North Carolina are still too close to call.
Donald Trump, Thursday
If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us .. They're trying to rig an election, and we can't let that happen .. We think we will win the election very easily. We think there's going to be a lot of litigation because we have so much evidence, so much proof, and it's going to end up perhaps at the highest court in the land .. We're hearing stories that are horror stories.
AR Republicans: Invoke the 25th.
Britain Is Not America
Forget the special relationship. America is a foreign country.
Trump's supporters dream of American opportunity while their kleptocratic plutocracy cheats most of them. The deformities and corruptions of this obscenely unjust society get worse and worse.
Britain needs to make a break. Brits need to cultivate other languages and other communities. Like it or not, Brits need to pivot back toward Europe, because America is only an imaginary friend.
Boris Johnson will feel the chill if Joe Biden wins. A UK that walks away with no EU deal will get no US trade deal either. No amount of "world-beating" boosterism can disguise the problem.
The only way forward for Britain is to return to Europe.
AR Boris: See reason.
2020 November 5
US Presidential Election
The Guardian, 1120 UTC
Electoral College results so far: Biden 264, Trump 214 (270 to win)
Popular vote so far: Biden 72 136 589, Trump 68 649 947
Senate seats called so far: Democrats 48, Republicans 48
House seats called so far: Democrats 204, Republicans 190
Electoral College votes expected: Alaska 3 (Trump), Georgia 16 (Trump),
Nevada 6 (Biden),
North Carolina 15 (Trump), Pennsylvania 20 (Trump)
The expected result: Biden 270, Trump 268 — Biden wins
Well, that was scary
Election night wasn't a real thriller for a whole lot of people. The postelection fog was so thick we lost track of who was winning.
Joe Biden certainly seems to be doing better at getting the most votes. Donald Trump has responded by declaring victory while waving around lawsuits.
"This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country," said the man who is definitely an expert in being fraudulent and embarrassing.
Hard left president
Most Americans think Joe Biden will not complete a full term in the White House. But Republicans are terrified by the prospect of Kamala Harris as president. She sides with progressives on abortion, gun control, and tax reform.
UK will suffer
President Biden could become a reality. If so, Britain will face terrible economic damage. And the fault will lie squarely at the feet of Theresa May and her rabble of Remainer cohorts dragging their unwilling heels on Brexit for three years.
Uncle Joe doesn't like Leavers. His loyalty lies with the EU.
AR America: Expect a bumpy ride. Britain: Cleave to Europe.
Two Bowls Form Holographic Universe
We think spacetime is an emergent fabric stitched out of quantum threads. Juan Maldacena made a toy model of how it can work — a universe in a bottle.
The spacetime filling the bottle exactly maps to a network of quantum particles on the bottle's surface. The interior universe projects from the boundary like a hologram — a working example of a quantum theory of gravity.
Inside the bottle is a hyperbolic anti−de Sitter (AdS) space. Moving outward from the center, it curves toward the vertical, to give a boundary where a conformal field theory (CFT) maps to the holographic universe within.
In reality, we inhabit an elliptical de Sitter (dS) space without bounds. Xi Dong, Eva Silverstein, and Gonzalo Torroba (DST) have made a hologram of dS space by taking two AdS universes, cutting them, warping them, and gluing their boundaries together.
DST cut off AdS space at a large radius to create a Randall−Sundrum throat. This space is still approximated by a CFT that lives on its boundary, but the boundary is at a finite distance. They used string theory on two Randall−Sundrum throats to energize them and form two bowl-shaped dS spaces. Then they glued the two bowls together along their rims. The CFTs describing the bowls couple to form a single system that is holographically dual to the entire space.
The resulting spacetime has no boundary and is dual to two CFTs. The construction is called the dS/dS correspondence.
AR Old news, new to me.
2020 November 4
US Presidential Election
BBC News, 1900 UTC
Electoral College results after 42 of 50 states counted:
Biden 227, Trump 213 (270 to win)
President Trump has tweeted multiple times today promoting claims of voter fraud without
providing any evidence and is hinting at conspiracy theories about rigged elections.
AR Biden tentatively tipped to win.
2020 November 3
Vote to Start Over
The New York Times
Americans go to the polls today, the last day of voting in the 2020 election. Republican officials are working frantically to discourage voting and to prevent ballots from being counted. Other officials in many states have made it easier to vote than ever before.
Millions of Americans plan to put on masks on Tuesday and vote in person. Some will wait for hours in long lines — a heroic response to a disgraceful reality — to exercise their right to pick the people who will serve them in future.
State election officials have an obligation to ensure that all of these votes are counted. The courts have a paramount duty to maximize the opportunity to vote and ensure that ballots are counted.
The election is just a beginning. America was struggling to address a range of problems before 2016. Over the past four years, those challenges have only increased.
A free and fair election is a chance to start over.
AR Just do it.
2020 November 2
Keeping the Lights On
Scholars of Authoritarianism
We see the signs of a global crisis of democracy. We must:
• Resist the temptation to take refuge in a figure of arrogant strength
• Safeguard critical thinking based on evidence by supporting investigative journalism,
science and the humanities, and freedom of the press
• Secure commitments from corporate media organizations and governments to tackle
misinformation and media concentration
• Reveal and denounce any connections between those in power and vigilante and militia
forces that use political violence
• Defend pluralism and democracy against communal violence and authoritarianism
• Defend the integrity of the electoral process and ensure the widest possible voter turnouts
• Commit to a global conversation on support for democratic institutions, laws, and practices
• Turn away from the rule by entrenched elites and return to the rule of law
• Replace the politics of internal enemies with that of adversaries in a marketplace of ideas
• Work together to keep the light of democracy shining
AR Critical day: 2021-01-20
China, Covid, and the West
The Communist Party of China says collective development is at the heart of all China's achievements. Human rights mean sharing in economic and social advance.
China has contained Covid-19. Its economy has provided 60 million new jobs in the past five years. China aims to achieve self-reliance in science and technology by 2025.
The United States and Europe are descending into prolonged recession. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, along with the philosophy they represent, need to go.
East Asian societies have the social capital and mutual support to contain Covid-19. The West can do it too, but only if everyone cooperates. Britain needs to start working with Europe.
AR And with China.
Johnson, Brexit, and the Plague
Dominic Cummings is waiting for the result of the US election before opting for a no-deal Brexit.
As the reality of Brexit sinks in, even writers in the Daily Telegraph are getting worried. Brits now disapprove of Brexit by 50% to 38%. Alas, Boris Johnson thinks he is Winston Churchill.
Leaving the single market will be extremely disruptive. Without a deal, a national emergency can only be avoided by agreeing with the EU to extend the transition period.
Brexit is a plan to deepen the economic crisis. Going ahead with it in a time of plague is mad.
AR Rejoin the EU.
2020 November 1
Political author Sally Bedell Smith: "People are .. voting with the assumption that Kamala Harris is going to step into the presidency at some point in the next four years, and most certainly is going to be the Democratic nominee in 2024."
Joe Biden: "When I agreed to serve as President Obama's running mate, I told him I wanted to be the last person in the room before he made the important decisions. That's what I asked Kamala. .. To always tell me the truth .. Ask the hard questions."
AR Seems OK to me.
Boris Johnson: England will enter a month-long lockdown on Thursday.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith says the PM is "giving in to the advice of his scientific advisors" and warns of "dire consequences" for the economy.
AR Science comes first.
Black Holes Regurgitate Information
Information escapes from a black hole. If Hawking radiation is random, black hole formation and evaporation is irreversible, violating the time symmetry of quantum theory. But quantum entanglement links the radiation and the hole. The radiation only looks random.
Consider a black hole lifetime. At the start, before any radiation is emitted, the entanglement entropy (EE) is zero. At the end, there is no longer a black hole and the EE is zero again. As radiation escapes, the EE grows, but this trend reverses at the Page time. The EE of black holes follows the Page curve and information comes out.
For a bounded universe, AdS/CFT duality says a black hole in the bulk has a boundary governed by quantum physics that preserves information, so the black hole does too.
A quantum extremal surface carves the bulk into two pieces and maps each to a part of the boundary. Early in the evaporation process, when the EE of the boundary is rising, a quantum extremal surface pops up just inside the event horizon. As the hole shrinks, so do the quantum extremal surface and the EE. Late in the process, particles deep inside the black hole are no longer part of the hole and no longer contribute to
the EE, so it falls. The EE tracks the Page curve.
In the case without AdS/CFT duality, quantum gravity says a Feynman path integral over all possible spacetime geometries lets us identify saddle points.
The EE is defined as the logarithm of a matrix. The matrix requires evaluating the path integral. But consider checking whether a coin is fair by tossing two replica coins and noting how often they land on the same side. If they do half the time, the coins are fair. This is like not knowing the full matrix for the black hole, yet still its EE.
A gravitational path integral over replicas gives a new saddle point containing multiple black holes linked by wormholes. The wormholes and the regular geometry of a single black hole are inversely weighted by how much EE they have. Wormholes have a lot of EE, so they have low weights at first. But their EE decreases, whereas that of the radiation increases. Eventually the wormholes dominate the dynamics. The shift is a quantum process.
AR Alles Quatsch!